When Will Shakespeare wanted to write about dreams – in, for example, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – he didn’t fool around. He took humans of all kinds – from royals to young lovers to the blue-collar crowd – and shoved them all into a forest, where strange sounds and sights are common.
He tossed in magical elements – a potion from a flower that makes a sleeper fall in love with the first creature it sees on waking. Then he added a whole colony of forest creatures in the form of fairies, ruled by Fairy Queen Titania (Krystel Lucas) and her consort Oberon (Jay Whittaker).
And just for good (and hilarious) measure, a group of tradesmen, undereducated but good-hearted, who will – ready for this? – become actors, to the amusement of all.
This “Midsummer” is long on outrageous costumes – Ian Talbot, who has directed and acted in this play countless times, gets a chance here (thanks to the Old Globe/USD MFA partnership) to use 12 fairies rather than the usual four, so there are four times more sprites than usually seen.
Deirdre Clancy’s fairy costumes are nearly impossible to describe (they’re woodsy and strange, but not especially magical). Somehow, though, several of the wearers manage to shimmy up girders to the second playing level with enviable skill. The problem with these fairies is that they don’t appear to be having much fun.
Talbot sets the play in Victorian times in Athens, where in the “serious” part of the plot Egeus (Sherman Howard), who wants his daughter Hermia (Winslow Corbett) to marry Demetrius (Nic Few), drags her to Theseus, Duke of Athens (Jay Whittaker), to demand his legal right – that Hermia be ordered either to marry Demetrius or die (or enter a convent, regarded by all as equivalent to or worse than death).
But Hermia and Lysander (Adam Gerber) are in love, and hatch a plot to run away to the forest, beyond the jurisdiction of Athenian law.
Meanwhile, Hermia’s childhood friend Helena (Ryman Sneed), bespectacled and sharp of tongue, loves Demetrius. But of course he loves Hermia.
The lovers are written to appear ridiculous – and they do, with as much charm as the playwright allows – but again, they don’t seem to be having a lot of fun with the silliness.
So – let’s see – we have three pairs of lovers (though they don’t all know it yet) who will meet in the forest, there to be bewitched by Titania and Oberon and the fairy throng.
Who’s left? Why, the blue-collar gang – “rough mechanicals,” as they’re called – whose leader, Peter Quince the carpenter (Charles Janasz), enters them in a contest to provide entertainment for the nuptials of Duke Theseus (Whittaker) and Hippolyta (Lucas).
Talbot has elected to push characters and situations to extremes I’ve never seen (I’ve never seen anyone toss Helena off the back of the stage before), landing most of the characters squarely in sitcom territory, which makes it difficult for the audience to engage or even care about some of them. Even the music (by Dan Moses Schreier) is dark and distinctly unmagical.
The strongest elements of this production include Oberon (Whittaker) and his servant Puck (Lucas Hall), sent to find the flower that produces the magic potion. They are terrific together (and look like they pump iron together too) as they plot to confound Titania and attempt to set the romantic tangles aright.
But the unquestioned stars of the evening are the mechanicals, whose rehearsal for and performance of "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe" (based on Ovid) is nothing short of hilarious. Congratulations to the six actors – Miles Anderson, Daniel Carrier, Janasz, John Lavelle, Triney Sandoval and Sean-Michael Wilkinson – who make their scenes such a pleasure to watch.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is silly, sometimes even dopey, but it needs to be funny from beginning to end. This one is only fitfully so.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays through Sept. 29 in repertory with “The Merchant Of Venice” and “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” at The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday through Sunday at 8 pm through July. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm. in September. Check website (theoldglobe.org) for specific dates and plays.
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.