Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > A ‘Dream’ comes true at La Jolla Playhouse

A ‘Dream’ comes true at La Jolla Playhouse

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at La Jolla Playhouse

By Carol Davis


Carol Davis

LA JOLLA, California—If you’ve never seen Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this might be a good time to catch it at the La Jolla Playhouse. If you have seen it, this may be a good time to see it again and compare it to other productions you’ve seen. I think you will be more than pleasantly surprised, sensually satisfied and overall in awe of the creator’s imaginations.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the most part is just that, a dream play. And dreams take on many layers and this production is no different. The story starts off pretty straight-laced. Theseus/Oberon (Daniel Oreskes), Duke of Athens is planning a four-day wedding celebration in honor of his marriage to Hippolyta, /Titania (Charlayne Woodard) queen of the Amazons.

While arranging the entertainment Egeus, an Athenian nobleman (Jonathan McMurtry looks great on the La Jolla Stage) comes to the court with his daughter Hermia (Amelia Campbell) demanding that she marry Demetrius (Seán Mahon) even though she loves Lysander (Tim Hopper).

A decree on the books makes it mandatory for daughters to obey their fathers in this regard or face the penalty of death or the convent. His choice for her is Demetrius, like it or not. They have four days to decide whether or not to obey both the king and Egeus.

Having no other alternatives they decide to run off into the forest together and then off to Lysander’s aunt’s house where they will be married. When they tell Helena (J. Smith-Cameron) Hermia’s best friend who just happens to be in love with Demetrius… and so on and so on, she decides to join them.

And here’s where the fun begins, especially if you believe in fairy tales (and fairies), magic (and magic potions) dreams coming true and happy endings.

OK! There’s more. Nothing in Shakespeare is simple and this classic comedy is no different but under artistic director Christopher Ashley’s ideas of what he envisioned, you will not go home wondering about the play but ‘how it all got done’.

Ashley actually had a vision while he was in some ‘state of fever’ and the world looked upside down to him. That’s fair. . Fevers do that to us as do dreams.

So when the couples run off into the forest to find ‘auntie’s’ house, they kind of get lost and decide to rest before going any further. Voila! The formal Victorian drawing room with crystal chandeliers, fireplace and huge mirror, grand piano (back to that one later) tables and plants we saw when the play begins (Neil Patel) suddenly become a whirlwind of activity.

The furniture starts flying up, up, up, the piano is turned on its head, chandeliers become plants sprouting from the forest, servants are turned into fairies doing stunts seen in cirque shows, (keep your eyes peeled on aerialist Tatyana Petruk) and they crawl in and out of the paneless windows revealing a full orchestra (in a garden off to the side) composed of professional musicians and students past and present from the San Diego Youth Symphony.

They hang from the walls and rest on the lights. Acrobats (Ken Berkley, Matthew Cusick) fall from overhead lofts aided by curtains that float away from the windows (Basil Twist is the puppeteer who engineered the whole thing.) and perform fetes and feats of balancing.

Things are jelling in the forest. Theseus is there with the rest of the gang but is now Oberon king of the fairies and Hippolyta; queen of the fairies is now called Titania. They are there to bless (you guessed it) Hippolyta and Theseus on their upcoming marriage. 

Since Oberon and Titania weren’t on the best of terms in their former lives and nothing much changed in the forest, Oberon decides to play a little joke on Titania because she stubbornly refuses tp turn over her newest acquisition to him, a young royal, (flutist Sara Kornfeld Simson) so he can be knighted.

He has Puck, who also causes much angst to everyone he touches; spread some of the juice from a magical flower on Titania while she is sleeping so she will fall under a love spell.  The first person she sees when she opens her eyes is Bottom, one of the roving entertainers, (Lucas Caleb Rooney) and she is smitten. The only problem is that Bottom’s head, has been transformed by Puck, into the head of an ass.

Puck also is responsible for putting the ‘love potion’ onto the sleeping lovers’ eyes so that when they wake, there will be no mistakes about who belongs to whom. In his haste, though he causes chaos with both sets of lovers (the wrong ones, thank you) and once again everything is turned inside out.

The intertwining plots and side stories, (especially the group of wandering actors rehearsing for the entertainment of the Duke’s wedding is almost too much to watch), play themselves out with a splendid cast in particular Charlayne Woodard who is not only stunning to look at but shows her multiple talents, especially acting and musical

As Hippolyta she’s uptight, unwilling to give an inch to Theseus, whom she does not like much from the outset. As Titania, she shows the freedom of a liberated woman who is carefree and independent.  Davis C. Woolard’s costumes are eye popping— particularly the change from formal Victorian to fairy sparkly, colorful and exotic. (One has to wonder how much stress the stuffy Victorian costumes put on women of that era.)

Oreskes (speaking of costumes) looks more like a military cadet in his grey looking getup. When we first meet him he is up tight and cold. When he enters the forest, he’s in flowing robes of many colors and more relaxed. His performance as the Duke/ King range opposite ends of the spectrum. He is dictatorial, powerful and rather uncompromising as the Duke and playful yet somehow apart from the goings on as Oberon.

The misguided lovers Hermia (Amelia Campbell) and Helena are less convincing as the scorned and disappointed lovers but J. Smith-Cameron’s Helena is a hoot as she stomps, circles and munches on sandwiches from a picnic basket they brought for the schlep through forest as she tries to solve the puzzle in the about-face affections of Demetrius and Lysander. Both Tim Hopper and Seán Mahon are perfect foils.

Ashley’s production shines with sparkling gems throughout but the crown jewel is Mark Bennett’s additional music and score in combination with, of course, Felix Mendelssohn (“Wedding March”). Without the music threading through this production it would be another fine, but busy, “Dream”. 

Bennett’s score (I thought I recognized something like G&S at one point) along with a 27-piece orchestra (under the direction of Eric Stern) is all encompassing. It wraps itself around you throughout and carries the production through the hills and valleys up to and including the traveling craftsmen who entertain (acting, fumbling and bungling if you pardon the expression, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within the play) with a rendition of a Calypso dance number.

As is to be expected, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. The confusion of the trek through the forest is sorted out, fairies are turned back into servants, the sitting room is transformed back into its original setting, the weddings take place and love conquers, all at least for now.

 “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

See you at the theatre.

Dates: July 20th-August 22nd

Organization: La Jolla Playhouse

Phone: 858-550-1010

Production Type: Comedy

Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, and Ca 92037

Ticket Prices: $31.00-$66.00

Web: lajollaplayhouse.org

Venue: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre

Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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