PacRep delivers a magical Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
A giant moon glimmered at the elbow of a towering Monterey pine above the stage of the Outdoor Forest Theater on preview night of Pac Rep’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oh, it was not a real moon but a splendid moon, so much more cooperative than that which hid behind the cover of clouds. Alas! Not all weather could be controlled as artfully, or this performance wouldn’t have ended with the ear-to-ear grins and cheers that bade farewell to the company of players who flourished their way off the stage at the end of the first act.
It took two nights to see PacRep’s new production and it was worth it. As the clouds opened to a sudden deluge that followed the first act on Friday night, Sept. 29, the audience met in an urgent huddle around the roaring firepits under trees at either side of the rows of seats, sharing coats to cover heads, running to cars for umbrellas. When the downpour stopped as suddenly as it had begun, there was a period of unanimous and shared delight. Just as the common question had time to form in the minds of the audience, Director Stephen Moorer leaped onto the glistening stage and declared that the play would continue. Hooray! Wild applause! A man with a broom began sweeping water off the stage; audience members began rearranging picnics and wet clothing. But then another downpour arrived, the performance was stopped, and all were invited back another night. It was fun.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has insured against all negative forces but rain by including some irresistible crowd-pleasers: A group of the actors, in character, mingles with the crowd at regular intervals, and oft-times in the course of the play a character steps into the audience to provide an artful aside. Many scenes include gorgeous children in fanciful glittering costumes – children whose laughter is a gurgle of delight. The set, overhung by that huge moon, serves beautifully whether it represents a plaza in ancient Athens or a fairy-filled forest, framing dramatic exits and entrances, providing a leaping-off spot for flying fairies, hearty tricksters or invisible meddlers.
Midsummer is the comedy that can be most easily imagined in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater circa 1625, where groundlings quaff tankards of ale as they roar at pratfalls and bawdy humor, while in the box seats the gentry clap more politely for the literary and historical references. The play has many levels – all of them funny – and is the source of many of The Bard’s most beloved characters. PacRep brilliantly reinvents them all.
Bottom is the weaver who is also an inveterate amateur actor, the star among an unlikely cadre of tradesmen who, during Midsummer, plan to stage a play for the Duke. During the course of the evening, Bottom is turned into an ass and enchanted by Titania, queen of the fairies. The role, in all its absurdity at all its levels, is brilliantly played by Jack Powell, who can currently be seen playing two roles just as brilliantly in Macbeth. Powell exudes such presence that he could easily dominate every scene he’s in, but instead he moves in and out of the spotlight, commanding all eyes with his perfectly modulated physical acting and voice, but also fading into the background, providing a sturdy foil for his fellows when that’s required. Sitting splay-footed on the stage with an ass’s head covering his face and garlands of flowers over his shoulders, he still managed to convey the goofy dignity of a common man suddenly and inconceivably elevated, and to make the audience love him.
Another standout from the darkest regions of Macbeth is Shawna Cormier – there a most well-crafted and sympathetic Lady MacDuff – here creating an irrepressible Puck, magical functionary of the King of the Fairies. Cormier kicks off all traces to fly quite literally and fearlessly as Shakespeare’s most delicious trickster, her every monologue a conspiracy with the audience.
Emily Jordan and Katie O’Bryon as Helena and Hermia are completely engrossing in their shared female leads. Jordan as Helena is absolutely and memorably hilarious, her face and body so plastic that, as she dissolves into tears she seems to melt, as she pursues her beloved Demetrius – played valiently by Stephen Massott – is fleet of foot and capable of an Olympics-worthy leap into his resisting arms. Her speech flows so naturally that there is never a doubt about meaning, and her character – who would be scarily ridiculous in real life – is a favorite in this farce. Katie O’Bryon’s Hermia is just as perfect of timing and physical humor, though using a bit more obvious slapstick for schtick, but marvelous nonetheless.
There is no sour note in this brilliantly conceived fantasy, and no small parts. The second half of the evening must tie together many stories and has a lot of dialogue. Smaller children who would adore the flying fairies and wonderful costumes might well be spirited home or into the hands of babysitters at intermission, perfectly satisfied to let parents return to see the end and provide well-deserved applause.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM continues at 7:30pm Friday-Sunday at the Outdoor Forest Theater, Santa Rita and Mountain View, Carmel. $30-35/general; discounts for seniors, military and students; $7/children 12 and under. 622-0100 or pacrep.org