If you are a regular patron of live theatre or have friends who are actors, there is no way you have escaped at least one production of Shakespeare’s ubiquitous summer staple. I am, of course, referring to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Before one can review California Shakespeare Theater‘s production of this play and truly appreciate its magnificence, I must digress to frame why this particular production is so spectacular. Please bear with me as I offer some brief historical context.
The play is really three plays in one: the lovers, the fairies and the mechanicals. Each one has its own distinct personality and narrative, and they all intersect throughout the show.
The lovers are usually laden with physical gags that rarely pay off and with characters so one-dimensional that the Orinda air would carry them into the hills watched by the uncomprehending cows.
The fairies usually range from the saccharine sweet, overly whimsical pixies played by interns or understudies to dull supporting buttresses for a director’s unsupportable idea (how about skinhead fairies – yes, that’s been done).
And finally, and most painfully, the mechanicals … dear lord, the mechanicals. The “comic relief” of the show is rarely comic and a relief because their play signals the end of our own. Having seen so many mediocre to poor Midsummers, I was, to say the least, reticent to attend this one. But had I skipped this production, I would have missed one of my favorite theatrical experiences in many, many years.
Aaron Posner’s inspired creation at the California Shakes is nothing short of brilliant. Even the rather sloughy exposition in the first few scenes, which must be furnished to give the audience the story essentials, found a new breath and life.
The lovers in this production had a wonderful mixture of youthful arrogance and unapologetically selfish indulgence that I found rather endearing.
The mechanicals, an ensemble effort lead by Danny Scheie as Bottom, broke every clich