This bold and charming production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream brought UCSB’s Naked Shakes program full circle, as it began ten years ago with a different production of the same play. While maintaining Naked Shakes’ signature emphasis on the actor and the words, this year’s cast spread their wings to embrace a thrilling collaboration with UCSB dance and movement specialist Christina McCarthy. The venue shifted from the Performing Arts Theater to the Theater Department’s movement studio, where spectators were seated on all four sides of the action, which took place on and above the dance floor in the middle of the room. The actors entered, exited, and climbed aloft on the several large strips of red silk that hung from the space’s high ceiling.
Given both the cast’s buoyant and crystalline line readings and Irwin Appel’s sharp, propulsive direction, there was no danger that the air show would distract anyone from Shakespeare’s verbal acrobatics. Throughout the performance, the fully lit room resounded with a series of surprises, from the half dozen or so lines that the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Solmyra Araiza) tossed off in Spanish to spice up the opening scene to the delirious barks and brays that punctuated certain speeches later on by Helena (Katherine Wehler) and Bottom (Rebecca Mason), respectively.
The quartet of lovers that included Wehler’s excellent Helena was rounded out by three additional strong performances by Hermia (Gabrielle Korte), Lysander (Jesse Waddell), and Demetrius (Tyler X Koontz). This core group, so full of tenderness and wit, gave the show a strong center of gravity. Director Appel’s decision to cast a group of seven actors all in the ordinarily single role of the fairy Puck lent the entire evening a carnivalesque touch, as the whirling cluster of Pucks sent energy levels soaring every time they invaded the space. Rigo Sanchez and Araiza made a glamorous pair as Theseus and Hippolyta, and Sanchez, who doubled in the role of Oberon, King of the Fairies, also exhibited powerful chemistry with his Titania (Soren McVay).
The night reached its climax in an uproarious exchange between Pyramus and Thisbe that showcased the comic talents of the cast’s six clowns —Mason, Danielle DeLao, Koontz, Dani Hernandez, Anastasia McCammon, and Larissa Wilkinson. Anyone who cares about contemporary Shakespeare, and who missed this short run, would be wise to catch the encore performances coming up on the weekend of October 10-12.
For info, visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu.