BWW Reviews: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM of Intoxicating Depth
More laughter, more beauty, more of everything that makes theatre special is what you'll find in the Actors' Gang's production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. It is a night of Shakespeare that takes all emotion to the brink and entertains with a vibrancy of invention that would surely make old Will smile were he to wake from his eternal slumber.
This is a dream I shall not soon forget. In fact, I love what Actors' Gang has created so much that I could see every remaining performance of the run, and then never see a MIDSUMMER again, and I would be completely satisfied.
Why? What is it about the Gang's version of Shakespeare's most popular comedy that has marked me where the bolt of Cupid fell and made me a forever fan? I urge you to go so you can see for yourself. Words can only capture part of the experience and it is in that which is intangible that you will find its most wondrous gifts.
The play is polished to quivering perfection with moments so bursting with life and characters so rich that it is almost impossible to absorb it all in one sitting. A true ensemble piece, you can pick out any single face and follow it for a full and complete performance, whether it is a principle character like Titania in the midst of her famous "forgeries of jealousy" speech, or a silent fairy, seated with a miniature beehive on a stick in front of his face and a shaft of Grandpa's Whiskers in each hand, simulating the forest while suspiciously eyeing the action.
With childlike joy these many million pieces of the puzzle come together under Tim Robbins' assured direction. He answers questions you didn't know you had and makes clear many of the phrases that normally get lost in Shakespeare's text such that even one who has never heard the words before will understand them completely. Or, take away the words and simply watch the actions. Its humor and pathos are embedded in its core.
The laughs are plentiful and timing superb. Among the many comic tussles are scenes choreographed with an artful lyricism that will take your breath away set to Dave Robbins' original music for cello and percussion. His soundscape is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of melodies, tribal effects and haunting sounds that move in service to the play with skillful ease.
Watch for a scene set to music following the marriage of the couples that is quite stunning and completely unique to this production. Its silent commentary captures the moving journey lovers make over a lifetime in only a few short minutes and it is remarkably effective in conveying its touching message about love.
Each actor takes on multiple roles, with all but Pierre Adeli (excellent as Oberon/Theseus) and Sabra Williams (as a luscious Titania/Hippolyta) dividing up the lines for Puck. Bob Turton's Bottom is an unforgettably rambunctious roustabout who leads his rustic band of Mechanicals with demented glee. He also gives Williams a big surprise - and the audience a huge laugh - during their dalliance in the forest when it comes time to pony up the goods.
Flashing hormones and stormy emotions are the cause of much comedy in the forest. Adam J. Jefferis takes on a doltish Frat boy goofiness for Demetrius and though it's Hermia (Lee Hanson) he wants and not Helena (Hannah Chodos), he isn't above letting those hormones run away with him when he gets the opportunity. The winsome Chodos is charming as second fiddle Helena while Hanson's Hermia becomes so incensed when she thinks that Helena has betrayed her that she is like a time bomb about to explode. Hilarious in her own right, the scene is sold by the reactions of the others when they realize she's getting ready to blow.
Best of all is Will Thomas McFadden (Lysander), whose ability to find comedy in the minutest of details is a marvel. He can barely say Hermia's name without gagging once he is bewitched and his face whenever she comes close to him is priceless. As Snug, the fellow who will become the lion for the Mechanicals' production of Pyramus and Thisbe, he is a ticklish and timid bundle of sweetness that proves it isn't what you say but what you do that endears a character to the audience.
And on and on it goes with every actor immersed in the immediacy of the moment to such an extent that the resulting effect is a collective of intoxicating depth. It is the best of what theatre can be and as rewarding an emotional experience as you'll find anywhere. Grab everyone you know and go. It will be the one production you remember when you look back on 2014. In case you were wondering, you'll find me in the second row.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
July 24 - August 30, 2014
The Actors' Gang
9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA
Performances are Thurs - Sat 8:00 pm
Tickets: (310) 838-4264 or www.theactorsgang.com
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Pictured above: Lee Hanson (Hermia), Hannah Chodos (Helena) and Will Thomas McFadden (Lysander)
Photo credit: Gao Shang at National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing.
Photo credit for photos below: Dianna Oliva-Day