By Pat Launer
When the impetuous, love-sick Athenian foursome takes to the woods, so does the audience.
The site-specific UC San Diego production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (even in chilly late fall) is a moveable theatrical feast.
Kate Jopson, a 2014 graduate director, transports the action to different spots on campus, in and around the Geisel Library, for each of the three acts. Seats are provided only in the nearby wooded grove. Otherwise, bring a blanket or prepare to stand (the first and third acts last about 20-30 minutes; the middle act is more like an hour). If you’re dressed warmly (it went down to a brisk 52 degrees on opening night), you’ll have fun – and you’ll even get to dance with the cast at the end.
There’s a whole lot of silly going on, and there’s a wide range in acting ability (the 21-member undergraduate cast varies in talent and experience). The most noteworthy are fortunately cast in two crucial roles: Emily Cary, agile and amusing as the impish fairy, Puck; and Mohammad Shehata as Bottom, the outlandish braggart who gets temporarily turned into an ass (his braggadocio gives him a head start).
Music courses through the production (several company members play instruments), some of it more appropriate than others (we could all have done without that infernal ear-worm, “It’s a Small World”). Some of the more current, adult music works well, however, and Shakespeare’s songs are not forgotten.
The costumes (Reny Kim) are delightfully whimsical, and the makeup (uncredited) is terrific, a perfect match for the magical forest. There’s plenty of yelling and emoting, but these are acoustically challenging circumstances. One can only hope that all the performers’ voices make it through the 5-day run.
In slightly over two intermissionless hours (consider walking to the next location a ‘break’ of sorts), pretty much the whole tale is told, of the four interconnected plots: the marriage of the Athenian duke to the Amazon queen; two confused young couples (a sexual confusion is added to the mix), who lose themselves and then find their true loves in the magical woods; the battle between the king and queen of the fairies in those woods; and the machinations of the comical ‘rude mechanicals,’ working class dolts who perform, at the end, a deliciously disastrous production of the star-crossed lovers, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” in which Shehata’s prolonged death scene is especially comical.
So, there are some weak spots, but they’re offset by many strong moments. The overall impression is an imaginative conception, an entertaining and often interactive production of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.
- The site-specific production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through Nov. 23, at several locations on the campus of UC San Diego (starting at the entrance of the Geisel Library)
- Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.
- Running Time: 2 hrs. (no intermission)
- Tickets are FREE. Just show up. Further info is online at theatre.ucsd.edu/season/Dream.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
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