AISLE SAY San Francisco


by William Shakespeare
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Shana Cooper
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

The opening scene of California Shakespeare Theater's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" sets the tone for the rest of Shakespeare's play.

It's a down and dirty wrestling match between Theseus (Daisuke Tsuji) and Hippolyta (Erika Chong Shuch), the Amazon queen whom he has conquered and intends to marry.

This scene foreshadows even messier goings-on when four young people go to the forest outside Athens in pursuit of love. Their battles find them losing much of their clothing, especially on the women, and slathering mud on each other.

Director Shana Cooper is responsible for this staging, along with Shuch, who, in addition to playing both Hippolyta and Titania, serves as movement director.

The dirt comes from the set by Nina Ball. It is strewn with a black ground cover similar to wood chips that sometimes stick to the costumes.

As the audience arrives, large white plastic sheeting looking like a shower curtain is arrayed across the stage. Later it rises and billows overhead like clouds (lit by Burke Brown) as it reveals the forest with its woodpiles and outlines of trees.

The production's black, gray and white color scheme is echoed in Katherine O'Neill's costumes until the final scene. That's when the six tradesmen, often called the Rude Mechanicals, stage the "lamentable comedy" of "Pyramus and Thisbe" for a wedding celebration.

While this scene often comes as an afterthought to the romantic resolutions that precede it, here it's the hilarious highlight of the production. And, as noted, it breaks the color scheme with Flute (Craig Marker, his left arm in a sling) playing Thisbe in a white dress with red high heels, red wig and red accessories. Snug (Danny Scheie) plays the lion in a glittering head piece resembling a mane.

Director Cooper seems so intent on physicality that it could take a back seat to Shakespeare's words were it not for a first-rate cast of veteran actors. One woman in the restroom line at intermission said that she enjoyed the play most when she closed her eyes and just listened.

All of the actors do at least double duty, serving in the ensemble in addition to their named roles. Two of the young lovers are played by Dan Clegg as Lysander, who is loved by Hermia )Tristan Cunningham). However, Hermia is supposed to marry Demetrius (Nicholas Pelczar), who had previously wooed Helena (Lauren English), who still loves him.

It took their retreat to the woods and some botched but eventually successful intervention by Oberon (Tsuji) and his assistant, Puck (Scheie). This intervention also applied to Titania, who had incited Oberon's anger. The spell that Oberon put on her made her fall madly in love with Bottom (Margo Hall), one of the Rude Mechanicals, whom Puck had transformed into an ass.

Capably completing the cast in named roles are James Carpenter as Egeus and Starveling, Catherine Castellanos as Snout and Liam Vincent as Peter Quince.

It seems that Cooper, like some other directors, wants to take a different approach and make Shakespeare more trendy. It's as if they don't trust the Bard or the beauty and relevance of his words. Luckily for the Cal Shakes audience, though, Cooper has excellent actors who know how to speak the lines.

For More Information

Return to Home Page

  • Road (National) Tour Review Index
  • New York City & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • Berkshire, Massachusetts Theatre Review Index
  • Boston Area Theatre Review Index
  • Florida Theatre Review Index
  • London Theatre Review Index
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul (Twin Cities) Theatre Review Index
  • Philadelphia & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Review Index
  • Seattle Area Theatre Review Index
  • Toronto, Ontario (Canada) Index