Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parks

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parks

Summer would not be complete without seeing at least one Shakespeare play outdoors somewhere in Los Angeles. This year I decided to spend a bewitching night in Griffith Park, selecting to see my favorite Bard comedy, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, presented by the Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) celebrating the 15th anniversary season of free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parks.

In 2010, ISC moved free Shakespeare in Barnsdall Park to Griffith Park, the second largest city park in California. The growth in attendance has been extraordinary, certainly due in part to the quality of the productions, since their first season (at Barnsdall Park in 2004) when ISC played to fewer than 1,000 people. Since 2013, the group has welcomed over 40,000 people each summer to the Old Zoo area in Griffith Park and have now performed to over 220,000 people in the summer. Admission continues to be FREE as are the ample parking lots and street parking in the area.

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City ParksAfter parking your car and hiking up to the Old Zoo (directions at www.iscla.org), be prepared to be dazzled by the staging area set up among the beautiful trees that sway in cool evening breezes, even on the hottest of days. And with all performances beginning at 7pm, it isn't long before the entire area turns into an enchanted forest with an all-new production that envelops the audience with the action of the play. In fact, don't be surprised to see fairies flitting right past you throughout the performance!

In fact, it's hard to tell where reality ends and dreams begin Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parksin this intricate, family-friendly, intoxicating joyride of a play which centers on intersecting storylines taking place on the eve of Theseus, Duke of Athens (Evan Lewis Smith), wedding to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Aisha Kabia who infuses much humor into this outspoken feminist's lines). For while it's true that Theseus recently defeated her in battle, there is no doubt who will hold the reins in the bedroom of this powerful pair.

Griffith Park is the perfect setting for the deep forest outside of Athens where otherworldly creatures, two sets of lovers on the run, Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parksand a group of blue collar workers (the Mechanicals) attempting to present a short play at the wedding festivities, all converge. When their worlds collide, chaos ensues and nothing but magic, thanks to a group of mischievous fairies whose antics have delighted audiences since this most popular of Shakespeare's comedies was first written in 1595/96, has the power to set things right before the sun comes up. No doubt the Bard's ode to the transformative power of love will continue to shine brightly for centuries to come.

In ISC's fast-paced, immersive evening of merriment, talent abounds. Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City ParksISC Managing Director David Melville brilliantly inhabits the role of Nick Bottom to comic heights as the "ham actor" weaver who makes an ass of himself attempting to tackle every role, if he could, in the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe which the Mechanicals intend to present to gain favor with the Duke. Rounding out the bumbling acting troupe of blue collar workers are William Elsman as the carpenter Peter Quince, Bukola Ogunmola as the perfectly feminine bellows mender Flute who takes on the role of Thisbe, Daniel Jimenez as the tailor Starveling, Patrick Batiste as Snout the tinker, and Richard Azurdia as Snug the joiner. These six actors held the audience in the palm of their hands during the infamous wall scene!

And what about the escaping lovers? When his daughter Hermia (Katie Powers-Faulk) refuses to marry Demetrius (Jose Acain), Egeus (Joseph Culliton) pleads his case to the Duke. Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City ParksYou see, in their minds a daughter is the property of her father, then her husband with no free will of her own. And since Hermia has fallen in love with Lysander (Xavi Moreno), the two make plans to escape Athens and marry. Further stirring the pot is Helena (tall and lithe Julia Aks), Hermia's best friend whose unrequited love for Demetrius spurs her to tell him of Hermia's escape, thus setting up the four to venture into the woods and cross paths with the spirits and fairies who prove "what fools mortals be" to be so fickle when it comes to knowing what true love really is.

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City ParksOberon, the mischievous King of the Fairies (Evan Lewis Smith, who dons a fanciful top hat for the role thanks to costumer Ruoxuan Li who adds lots of stylistic magic to the production) and his attendant Puck (Kelvin Morales) who frequently pops up through a trap door in the stage, are on a mission to get a Changling Child (Henry Reynolds, who shares the role with Talulah Shadrick) away from Titania, the Queen of the Fairies (Aisha Kabia). Smith and Kabia make the two very different "royal" couples they portray so distinct that it is easy to forgot you are watching the same pair play both pairs.

Also taking on double roles as both the Mechanicals and Titania's attendant fairies and spirits are Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City ParksBukola Ogunmola as Peaseblossom, Patrick Batiste, Daniel Jimenez, William Elsman and Richard Azurdia, along with Darian Ramirez and Rachel Li, several of whom play instruments to accompany most of Titania's movements through the forest as well as during her dalliance with Bottom when Puck transforms him into a real ass to please Oberon in his pursuit of the Changling Child.

One of the wonderful elements of the outdoor setting for this play is how natural the story becomes, with several children becoming so involved in the machinations created by Oberon and Puck that they attempted to alert cast members of their dastardly deeds, Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parksto no avail of course other than much laughter from audience members. No doubt, if you let yourself be open to the magic around you, this enchanting tale will lift your spirits as it reminds you to appreciate all the love and "good fellows" in your own life. So grab a blanket or a lawn chair, pack a picnic, and take a short hike into Griffith Park to a land of wonder and imagination thanks to the Independent Shakespeare Company's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - and bring the kids!

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, directed to endearing perfection by Independent Shakespeare Co.'s Artistic Director, Melissa Chalsma, Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by Independent Shakespeare Co. Opens the 15th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in Los Angeles City Parksruns through Sunday, September 2, the first of two productions being presented at this year's GRIFFITH PARK FREE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL. TITUS ANDRONICUS will open July 28 and then the plays will run in repertory through September 2 with performances Wednesday through Sunday at 7pm. For the plays schedule and information about special events, please call (818) 710-6306 or visit www.iscla.org

PHOTO CREDIT: Grettel Cortes Photography

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