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Emily Jordan as Titania in Free Shakespeare
in the Park's production of
A Midsummer Night's Dream


7/04/07

Festival brings the Bard to park
S.F. group presents Shakespeare's magical 'Midsummer' in Pleasanton

By Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times

If you want to perform a Shakespeare play outdoors in the summer, there is probably no better choice than "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Shakespeare's fantastic tale of romance and magic in a mysterious forest almost begs for an outdoor summertime setting, and San Francisco Shakespeare Festival takes full advantage of that in its production of "Midsummer," which opened Sunday in Pleasanton's Amador Valley Community Park, the start of a summer-long tour around the Bay Area.

The production is still rough in spots. And it needs to develop more of a sense of playfulness and fun to go along with its stylized presentation, which blends Exotic Erotic Ball with Disco Inferno to enhance the other-worldly aspects of the show and gives it an edgy sort of local flavor.

This "Midsummer" really begins to roll when the romantic action enters the woods, and the hormone- and magic-potion-charged lovers, fairies and sprites frolic late into the night in headlong pursuit of romance.

The woods are also the place where we meet the rude mechanicals, a group of craftsmen, who, we are told, have never before labored in their minds. Now, however, they are going about the task of staging a version of the "Pyramus and Thisbe" story, which they will perform at the wedding of the Duke.

They are completely inept and wildly hilarious as they go about their rehearsals and musings on the nature of drama's impact on their betters, particularly the ladies.

Together, this band of six -- played by David Fierro, Gary S. Martinez, Lewis Sims, Christina Vecchiato, Mick Mize and Colin Thomson -- presents one of the most amusing versions of the troupe I've seen. And Martinez, as Bottom, flat-out steals the show with his rich characterization, which presents the hapless weaver as an overly theatrical know-it-all. He tries to become the star of the mechanicals' show but ends up the donkey-headed lover of Fairy Queen Titania (Emily Jordan), much to the delight of her husband, Oberon (Michael C. Storm), and Puck, the sprite (Rowan Brooks) who helps make the spell possible.

The show's young lovers, running wild in the forest (both to escape the will of a parent and just because their passion is explosive), provide a wonderful counterbalance to the crazy mechanicals and bizarre fairies (who, in the real world, are royalty). Summer Serafin, John Sousa, Nicholas Pelczar and Maria Grazia Affinito turn the romantic romp in the forest into a pitched battle of infatuation gone mad. Their energy drives the yearning of the long night, but here is where a bit more playfulness would go a long way.

Director Kenneth Kelleher has created a satisfying and highly energetic show that captures the spirit and breathtaking sense of longing for love that Shakespeare seems to have intended. He does seem to have taken great pains, though, to highlight every line or instance that could have been intended as some sort of phallic reference. It's funny a time or two, but more than that is sort of like underlining the steamy parts in a racy novel.

But that's only a trifle; in all it's a great way to spend a midsummer night -- and, like most good things in the summer, it's free.

Pat Craig is the Times theater critic. Reach him at 925-945-4736 or pcraig@cctimes.com.

WHAT: San Francisco Shakespeare Festival presents "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare

WHEN / WHERE: times vary; see schedule

RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, 30 minutes

HOW MUCH: Free

CONTACT: 415-558-0888

 
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