A Midsummer Night’s Dream is never a small undertaking. It is a big show with a large cast, long running time, great complexity, and difficult language. The current production by SBCC Theatre Arts Department incorporates 26 cast members and some 60 more production personnel. Yet the effervescence and sheer fun of this show belie these ponderous stats. Shakespeare’s classic romp through the absurdities of love and the vagaries of identity succeeds here with original imagination. Bringing together area veteran talent with student newbies, the show has obviously gelled from out of a fertile workshop/mentorship milieu. It sparkles with the energy of discovery. Opening night rocked like a party, and the intimacy of the Jurkowitz Theatre invited the audience in.
The cast obviously takes great glee in the gags. First of all, this is not any midsummer but the midsummer of 1967, “The Summer of Love,” complete with black lights, beads, shaggy hair, and, yes, a VW bus, and it is punctuated with a ’60s soundtrack that includes the Turtles, the Troggs, and the Rolling Stones. About 10 minutes prior to the first curtain, one of Oberon’s turbaned attendants (Joe Sacks) took the stage, engaging the slo-mo moves of a tripper — or was it simply the otherworldly vigilance of a fairy? The Athenian elders Theseus and Egeus, agents of civic order and authority, are initially dressed as “squares” in business suits. But as they are touched by the magical influence in the aftermath of the dream, their attitudes — and apparel — soften hilariously. In general, the sheer variety of ’60s clothing is spectacular, if not wonderfully weird, with psychedelic fairies sporting pinioned headdresses.
Director R. Michael Gros has packed this production full of physical humor. The elaborately choreographed antics are impressive and were well rewarded with laughter on Wednesday night. Take, for example, the forest scene where Helena (Kathleen Leary) is suddenly besieged by Lysander (Colton Fair) and Demetrius (Josh Hershfield), both of whom have fallen under the fairy love potion. The quick pace of the banter never lost a beat; all the while, the three engaged in a complex sequence of pursuits and evasions that demonstrated Helena’s “am I loved or am I mocked?” confusion. Or, consider a speech by Peter Quince (Allan Stewart-Oaten) before handing out scripts to his rough players. The men crowded and grabbed at the pages like children jumping for out-of-reach candy — all but oblivious to anything he had to say. The freed pages eventually landed in the fireplace, where they were pulled out singed and crumpled. This kind of clowning pervades this show, like a second layer of dialogue, and is especially fun when highlighting bawdy textual innuendos. There is the risk, however, of going overboard and tromping the text, an edge that is skirted here at times.
Holding together the mania are notable performances by experienced players. Bill Egan is hilarious as Nick Bottom, the well-meaning and boisterous ass. Egan and Stewart-Oaten together do much to galvanize the ragtag group of country players into a commanding feature. Leesa Beck brings sensuality and an effortless command to Titania, nicely balanced by the strength of Brian Harwell’s Oberon (they both have great diction, too). Katherine Bottoms makes a blinding debut with her nimble and mischievous Puck; her chemistry and physical routines with Harwell make for an endearing spectacle.
If the short days and early darkness of autumn are getting you down, and you find yourself longing for summer — even if it be only a dream, or a flashback — then get thee to this Bard. Love Bugs park for free.