Los Angeles Times

July 1, 2005

 

THEATER BEAT

 

A 'Dream' that goes for broke

 

Forget the fairies and the rude mechanicals: The measure of any "Midsummer Night's Dream" is its Act 3, Scene 2—the four-way lovers' wrestling match that, for all its slapstick contrivance, still manages to portray ardor and heartbreak as vividly as any scene in Shakespeare's canon.

 

In director Tiger Reel's snappy new "Midsummer," this scene comes off as a steadily mounting, breathtakingly strenuous skirmish of the sexes, with a strong assist from the hanging forest vines of Joseph Stachura's set; it is from these that Demetrius (Keith Edie) and Lysander (R.J. Jones) suspend the newly hated Hermia (Julie Terrell), though the object of their affections, Helena (Wendy Obstler), violently rebuffs their advances.

 

The vines also provide swinging entrances for Jamil Chokachi's feral Puck, who models the show's 1980s-vintage look; in his torn T-shirt, fringed vest and high-top sneakers, this Puck suggests Sting playing Gollum in "Fame." The Athenian men are dressed by costumer Diana Tolins in black suits with pleated coattails, while Hermia wears leg-warmers over her boots, and Helena cuts a svelte business-suit figure.

 

The mechanicals here are mix-gendered office drones, though Starveling (Eric Baldwin) wears a disco jumpsuit and Weird Al Yankovic 'fro, and a female Snug (Marti Hale) sports a beehive wig and bimbo's decolletage. If Reel gives this crew too much leeway, it may be because he plays Bottom. The lack of objectivity shows.

 

But so does the go-for-broke relish that makes this a mostly winning "Midsummer." The show's grab-bag approach—with vaguely Japanese fairies ruled by a shogun-like Oberon (Raymond Donahey) and a more conventionally sinuous Titania (Christina Howard) -- pays off because the grabbing is sufficiently aggressive and the bag crammed with treats.

 

Rob Kendt

 

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 13. $10. (323) 677-0955. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.