On Theater: A marvelously manic 'Midsummer' at SCR

February 03, 2011|By Tom Titus
  • Elijah Alexander and Susannah Schulman (center) are watched by the fairies in South Coast Repertory's 2011 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare.
Elijah Alexander and Susannah Schulman (center) are… (Henry DiRocco,…)

Shakespeare still packs 'em in. There wasn't a vacant seat in sight at the opening of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at South Coast Repertory — and after word gets out, there'll likely be few throughout the run.

The Bard's most visually attractive, not to mention most accessible, comedy is — like other plays in the Shakespearean canon — open to conceptual interpretation. And director Mark Rucker puts his stamp of scintillating showmanship on the SCR production.

At South Coast, there's a futuristic feel to this Elizabethan frolic as Cameron Anderson's awe-inspiring setting illustrates. The Athenian court and the wooded domain of the mischievous fairies are strikingly larger than life, the latter a magnificent playground for the sprites who inject themselves into the travails of four young lovers.

Rucker's company thrives on the punchline to transform this classical comedy into an all-stops-out farcical romp as all four romantics are depantsed by the gleeful fairies and spend most of their woodsy sojourn scampering in their scantiest.


The director is well aware that the issue of conflict between Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies — possession of an abandoned child — is superfluous, and he bears down as lightly as possible on this aspect while concentrating on the wild and crazy antics of the lovers and on the hammy actor affixed with the head of a donkey, to which a magic potion has attracted Titania.

It's all familiar territory, but the joy of this production is in the manner Rucker and his cast approach it. The fairies are all male, a departure from modern form but more faithful to Shakespearean roots. And Puck could be a 16th century Fonzie, garbed in a derby hat and a shorts outfit composed of men's ties.

The acting is universally outstanding, with Susannah Schulman's earthy Titania topping a lengthy list of overachievers. Schulman, clad in as little as the law allows, revels in her commandeering character richly endowed with stealth and spirit in her volatile clashes with Oberon, a majestic Elijah Alexander.

Rob Campbell's Puck is a rebellious sprite, manipulating the actions of the four Athenian lovers with glee and gusto. Of that quartet, Dana Green's Helena is a standout, fending off the amorous advances of both Demetrius and Lysander after they've been touched by Puck's erotic potion.

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