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LA Theater Review

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Purists might find themselves taken aback by this visually stunning and artistically rendered version of Shakespeare's most enduring comedy. Director Mark Rucker has combined elements of romance and supernatural fantasy in ways that might be called Shakespeare moderne. From the first moments of the play, on a large stage entirely draped with stark white fabric, Cameron Anderson's aesthetically beautiful set evolves as the fabric is whisked away and the now familiar story of the chimerical colliding with the real world commences. The artistry of the set changes and Lap Chi Chu's lighting design might be the best reasons to see this production.

Populated by fairies, rough Athenian tradesmen, young lovers, and nobility, Shakespeare's story is chock-full of invention. Fairies who are more pop rock than Elizabethan are colorfully clad by Nephelie Andonyadis to fit contemporary choreography, as imagined by Ken Roht with original music by John Ballinger and Roht. The other characters are dressed, or undressed, as the play progresses in similarly clever garments.

Elijah Alexander and Susannah Schulman are double-cast as Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania, and they delightfully inhabit Rucker's modern and fantasy personae. The young lovers Hermia (Kathleen Early), Helena (Dana Green), Demetrius (Tobie Windham), and Lysander (Nick Gabriel) carry out their romantic complications zealously. Puck/Philostrate (Rob Campbell) is a strange piece of work. His phlegmatic nature is in stark contrast to the usual sprightly characterizations done by many theater companies. Costumed in one boot, one high heel, and a toga-like skirt, he shambles about like a cool dude left over from the 1960s.

His fellow fairies—played by Ryan Jones, Emmett Lee Stang, Rudy Martinez, Jordan Bellow, Dylan DoVale, Jaycob Hunter, and Jennifer Stang—are a hip group engaging in youthful, energetic dance numbers and acrobatics. The rude mechanicals—played by Hal Landon Jr., Patrick Kerr, Michael Manuel, William Francis McGuire, John-David Keller, and Richard Doyle—are easily up to the comedic tasks required for the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.

A Rucker production is worth the ticket price. Not without flaws, this rendition challenges the commonplace and would probably garner Shakespeare's approval for its lively execution.

Presented by and at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa.  Jan. 29–Feb. 20. Tue.–Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. (714) 708-5555.

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