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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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Imagine a balmy late-summer early evening on the manicured lawns just outside one of the Santa Ynez Valley's most beautiful wineries. You've brought your bread and cheese, your lawn chair or blanket, you've maybe even bought a bottle of wine from one of the most famous actors-turned-vintners, Fess Parker. You're in the company of good friends, fellow theatre lovers, and a fine company of players embarking on a new venture. What could be better than watching the day slip away into rose-and-crimson-hued twilight as you enjoy possibly the most appropriate of William Shakespeare's comedies for such an evening?

The new Shakespeare Santa Barbara, under the direction of company artistic director Jennifer Johnson, rises to the occasion with a fine staging of three tales in one. Johnson, along with managing director Darren Reagan, has assembled a compelling company comprised mostly of Los Angeles-based actors who perform as well as many companies who have been playing together for years. Particularly strong are Jackie Apodaca, who gives a superior interpretation of a down-to-earth yet whimsical Helena; James Bladon as Bottom, the droll weaver-turned-actor, and Ian Alda as Puck. Bladon and Alda make well-appreciated choices not often made by actors in these roles: They explore the nuances of their characters and play with their fellow players. Other performers of note include Jeff Mills as Theseus, Darin Anthony as Demetrius, Lamar Hughes as Philostrate, and Noah Harpster as Snout; and the reenactment of "Pyramus & Thisbe" is hilarious, though it undeniably veers into slapstick.

Though I'd prefer less-self-conscious fairies and might have considered casting any of the many talented Santa Barbara actors available in the Shakespeare Santa Barbara company, Evan Bartoletti's set design, Anne Jasey's costumes (particularly Bottom's fascinating mask), and the original music composed and performed by Jay Painter and Seth Young offer the perfect background and foundation for a first-rate entertainment.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," presented by Shakespeare Santa Barbara at the Fess Parker Winery, 6200 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos. Fri.-Sun. 6 p.m. Aug. 9-Sept. 1. $15-20. (805) 231-5088.

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