Yet review it I shall — once more into the literary breaches, lads and lasses! Where shall I begin in describing this surreal romantic romp written with quill and ink way back when Amazons were female warriors and not online book retailers, and pixies not pixels reigned? William Shakespeare’s frothy supernatural tale with its plot about lovers blithely switching partners the way most people change their socks inspired Woody Allen’s 1982 A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.
Costumer Katherine Crawford’s regalia — especially of the motley crew of faeries — is the best pixie-ish apparel this side of Tinkerbell. As usual, the troupe’s organized mayhem of mise-en-scene, co-directed by Willow Geer and her auntie, Mellora Marshall, takes full advantage of the surrounding woods and hills, literally putting the Botanicum into the Theatricum. But in this production the WGTB outdoes itself, offering something I haven’t seen before on this stage amidst the sylvan glade: Puck (played by the athletic Will Hickman in the performance I saw) swings above the boards, Tarzan-like, on a tree-attached rope — not a vine, although the theatrical effect remains divine. Holy Weissmuller! (In this cross-dressing cast, Ms. Samara Frame of My Name is Rachel Corrie fame usually portrays Puck.)
Although methinks Midsummer is age appropriate for children of all ages (a 90-year-old celebrated her birthday at the show I attended), the opening is quite sensuous with sinewy, sexy Sydney Mason as Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, adorned by war paint in a revealing outfit, embracing Theseus, duke of Athens (the lucky J.B. Waterman; Valeka Holt generally plays Hippolyta). Leaping leopards — a sort of leopard skin-garbed, war whooping Tanya Edwards is a standout in the ensemble of Amazons.
The Theatricum, which is an Equity house, generally (and blessedly) features a large cast, and alas, there are too many actors (by my count 41 thesps grace the stage in this show) for me to single them all out. (Although if your humble and most obedient scribe got paid by the word, he’d gladly do so.) So allow me to note a few of the other actors. As Oberon, the fairy king, Michael McFall reminded me of Orson Welles’ so-called Voodoo Macbeth presented by the Federal Theatre Project in 1936, with an all-Black cast on the Great White Way. The Geers are noted for their “non-traditional casting” (thee-a-tuh parlance for not being racist) and just imagine if all of Midsummer’s faeries were Black? In any case, McFall exudes a powerful presence as the monarch of imps and is stellar.
The shape-shifting Mellora Marshall, who sheds genders the way we mere mortals change garments, surpasses herself here, playing a character who isn’t even human. The grand Marshall is neither a man nor a woman — portraying Titania, she is Oberon’s fairy queen. As Helena, Marshall’s co-helmer, Willow Geer, is confronted by a creative challenge: Somehow this young woman who is, offstage, a radiant redheaded beauty, must somehow convince audiences she is a plain Jane. That through her dramatic sleight-of-hand Willow manages to do so is proof that she’s one of L.A. finest stage actresses.
And now we come to the bottom of Will’s bill, with Katherine Griffith’s hilarious cross-gender turn as the male, mustachioed, bellowing Bottom. Shakespeare, of course, slyly comments on the art of acting and those who do it in Hamlet, wherein “the play’s the thing.” The Bard also does so in Midsummer: Bottom is part of an itinerant troupe of actors (or something or other) who perform a play-within-the-play about the Roman mythological characters Pyramus and Thisbe (Ovid tells their tale in his Metamorphoses) to celebrate the nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta and company. Griffith’s Bottom is a bottomless pit of ego magically transformed by some stage effects into Shakespeare’s notion of what the playwright thought of hammy actors.
To be sure, the Theatricum, as usual, does the Bard proud. Nevertheless, the most magical thing about Midsummer is Shakespeare’s vision and his deathless dialogue. Would that your humble scribbler could write like that! Oh well. In any case theatergoers, go Puck yourselves and allow the enchanting, irreverent revels of this tidbit of Topanga tomfoolery cast a spell on you.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being performed in repertory through Sept. 28 along with Merlin by Ellen Geer (opening July 20), Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s The Royal Family and Tone Clusters by Joyce Carol Oates at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum: 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, California, 90290. For repertory schedule and other information call: (310)455-3723 or see: www.Theatricum.com.
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