A Midsummer Night's Dream Theatre Review - Magnificent Magic Comes Alive at The Botanicum Once Again

Bottom (Earnestine Phillips, center) tells the tale of the jackass

(Topanga, CA) June, 2010 – Why is it that William Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is such a popular show to produce? It doesn’t have the psychological complexity of HAMLET. It doesn’t contain the huge amounts of bloodshed like MACBETH. It doesn’t possess the epic scope like HENRY IV, V and VI. It doesn’t even have a charismatic villain for the audience to secretly cheer for like Iago in OTHELLO, Edmund in KING LEAR, and RICHARD III. What does Dream have? A bunch of fairies conjuring magic and loads of mischief, four young lovers who are so hormone-driven that they make the Beverly Hills 90210 kids seem like chaste Mormons, and a pompous jackass named Bottom who gets transformed into…well, a jackass! It’s a silly, nonsensical play and yet there have been six productions already this year in Southern California; the most recent one was at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at the College of the Canyons, which featured talented performances by Ggreg Snyder as Bottom and especially Brandon Pugmire as Puck. The answer to Dreams’ popularity is simple: it’s not only a fun play to produce and watch, but Shakespeare’s magical text contains the most vivid allegories on nature that has ever been created for theatre. And Director Melora Marshall and the Theatricum Botanicum recognize that fact. For the fifth year in a row, the Will Geer Theatre continues its annual tradition of producing this enjoyable Shakespearean production that appeals to all ages.

Hermia (Leslie Josette) seeks her love as Oberon (Michael McFall) and Puck (Samara Frame) look on

There are three scenarios to this theatrical triptych. Scenario #1: Four young lovers from Athens (Willow Geer, Jonathan Blandino, Leslie Josette, Paul Turbiak) escape their tyrannical elders and their king Theseus (Lewis Blanchard) from being forced into arranged marriages. Scenario #2: As the two couples hide in the forest that surrounds their kingdom, King of the fairies, Oberon (Michael McFall) and his faithful servant Puck (Samara Frame) plot to take an orphan child away from the Queen Titania (Susan Angelo), using all sorts of magic and mischief to accomplish their goals. Scenario #3: Meanwhile, a group of local rustics, led by Peter Quince (neurotically portrayed by Director Marshall) and pseudo-actor extraordinaire Bottom (Earnestine Phillips), travel into this same forest to rehearse a play for King Theseus’s wedding. And when the three parties come together, all hell breaks loose, and it is up to Oberon and Puck to use their magic and their wits to establish peace and love in the kingdom.

Fairy Queen Titania (Susan Angelo, center) rules her kingdom

Fast pacing and flawless comic timing is essential for this play and Director Marshall guides her talented cast perfectly, maintaining the flow of the scenes as though pieces were gently being placed in a jigsaw puzzle. As far as the acting is concerned---beginning with the supernatural realm of the fairies, McFall, Angelo and Frame shine wonderfully. In the beginning of the play, McFall’s Oberon is an arrogant, jealous patriarch who takes pleasure in inflicting his cruelty on his wife to satisfy his regal pride. However, his stone cold heart melts when he is witness to the predicament of the four lovers. McFall shows Oberon’s sensitivity and romantic nature with incredible ease, resulting in him extinguishing his fires for vengeance. But his fires of passion are intensified with Angelo’s Titania. Their chemistry is titillating. Angelo’s eloquence of The Bard’s poetics shows a delicate sweetness; her fury demonstrates a level of power. And Frame’s Puck is a playful sprite whose animalistic physicality is truly impressive. Her winning charm is extremely drawing to all the characters she encounters, and especially to the audience she addresses.

On to the mortal world, Geer, Blandino, Josette, and Turbiak are a pleasure to behold as the four young Athenian lovers. Turbiak’s Lysander is the good-hearted everyman who just wants to marry Josette’s Hermia. He is a fine foil against Blandino’s Demetrius, who is a vain and preening cad who rejects Willow Geer’s Helena at every opportunity he has in order to capture the attentions of Hermia. But Geer and Josette really demonstrate their talents in terms of both their character emotional range and their physical comedy. Geer’s Helena is a whiny, needy maiden who would do anything to please Demetrius, the man she desires. And Josette is a spunky, exotic firecracker as Hermia, whose passionate nature drives her to many acts of unusual acrobats, including climbing all over Lysander to snap him out of a spell and jumping and crawling into a mano-a mano battle with Helena. It takes an incredible amount of energy and endurance to portray the fiery nature of this character and Josette captures the essence perfectly (note to costumers: do a better job concealing her kneepads.).

Puck (Samara Frame) casts a spell

Lastly, we come to the troupe of amateur actors. Marshall, David Marmor, Christopher Greenwood, Jon-Barrett Ingels, and Norman Igar are truly entertaining , but Phillips’s…ahem…Bottom steals the show. It is a difficult task for an actress to play a male role, and it helps that Melora Marshall (who portrays male roles with frightening ease) is at the helm to guide Phillips in order to avoid stereotyping this memorable character. Phillips illustrates the bombastic, boorish nature of Bottom, who wants to play all the theatrical roles at the royal wedding. But the moment Bottom is transformed into a jackass---courtesy of a donkey head---Phillips drives the comedy of her scenes with her physical comedic talent and her chemistry with the fairies that are in a state of awe and wonder at the unusual creature. Her scenes with Angelo are hilarious and once Bottom is returned to human form, Phillips shows the character’s humanity. And by doing so, Bottom, as well as the entire production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, becomes more appealing to the sold-out audiences at the Botanicum as this magical summer continues.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened June 6 and runs to September 18, 2010 

Tickets: $10-$30

The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura [101] freeway)

online: http://www.theatricum.com/

Photos by: Ian Flanders

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