Fairies in turquoise pajamas. A red-haired sprite wearing a fluffy white dress with turquoise hugging the skirt. A king, resplendent in white with a turquoise floral pattern on his pants and a crown with turquoise gemstones. His bride, a vision in a long white gown with turquoise touches. Even the nearby eucalyptus trees seem to have a turquoise tint.
These are just a sampling of the memorable images audiences will carry home with them after devouring a comically satisfying version of William Shakespeare’s other-worldly, decidedly bizarre play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s visually spectacular new home, the Grove at DeLaveaga Park.
Make that the “Audrey Stanley Grove” now that SCS artistic director Mike Ryan has officially announced its name at a ceremony preceding the opening night performance last Friday.
What a superb beginning to what will likely be a very long stay for Santa Cruz’s determined little Shakespeare devotees who, against all odds, built a highly habitable, visitor-friendly outdoor theater in the woods in a mere four months.
As if that in itself isn’t astounding enough, how terrific that the sound, the lighting, the construct of the stage, the Quonset hut box office – even the quirky restrooms are darn near spot on as well.
Ah, but the play’s the thing, as Will would say, and happily, that, too, delivers.
What the audience spots first when looking at the warm tones of the redwood stage floor are four metal towers. Each is adorned toward the top with – of all things – wooden chairs. (None of them fall off so they must be semi-permanently affixed.)
Larry Paulsen, as Philostrate (and, later as Puck) carries on seven similar chairs, sets them just so, and the story unfolds quickly. It’s to director Terri McMahon’s credit that she strips out much of the illogicality that sometimes makes this Shakespeare tale too nonsensical.
Yes, the fairies are here, but mostly they behave themselves, climbing up, down, in and out of the metal towers. Make sure to keep an eye on the red-haired, pigtailed Patty Gallagher as the First Fairy as she prances, preens, climbs and beams with pure joy.
It takes a bit longer to warm to Cody Nickell, as Duke Theseus of Athens, and Mia Ellis, as his intended queen, Hippolyta. Later, when Nickell turns into Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Ellis is Titania, his fairy queen, they both settle into their roles and become more three-dimensional.
But it’s for the four young people to breathe life and romance into this story, albeit in such a roundabout way replete with imaginary magic potions and much traipsing through the woods looking for one another. It’s pure silliness – but done charmingly here.
The quartet of young lovers is well cast: Katherine Ko as Hermia, Kyle Hester as Lysanter, Brian Smolin as Demetrius and Mary Cavett as Helena. Ko and Cavett bring equal measures wit and gusto to their roles which make them stand out.
“Midsummer” then takes a 180-degree turn as the merry band of performers enters along with their leader Penny Quince (a delightful, impish Kate Eastwood Norris). All have been summoned to put on a play for the upcoming nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta. Quince selects Nick Bottom to play the lead, Pyramus, and from that point on, Pyramus tries to run the show.
As Bottom/Pyramus, Bernard K. Addison slyly insinuates his way into everyone’s heart, so when Puck decides to turn Bottom’s head into a donkey’s, the audience’s sympathy is clearly on his side. Addison is a charmer, never more so than when he’s making love to the fair Titania, who was given the love potion and awoke to his donkey face. In this interpretation, Puck and others use a verbal pantomime to administer the potion, sometimes making an elaborate ritual of it with the “popping” of a cork, “plinking” drops into sleeping eyes and then another pop to show the bottle is now corked. It’s an effective ploy.
As in many Shakespeare plays, there is much lyricism in his verse. Here is his “reason and love keep little company together” observation as well as “the course of true love never did run smooth” and “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
In this production, words aren’t all that please. Act 2 includes a scene that is visually arresting, with beautiful music, beautiful dancing, and, of course, the beauty of the outdoor setting. Sound designer/composer Rodolfo Ortega deserves special mention for his efforts, as do Christina Dinkel for the beautifully imagined costumes and Kent Dorsey for sound that made every word audible. Kudos, too, to Daniel Fenton Anderson (Snug) for his musical efforts on both violin and musical saw.
Granted, the “play-within-a-play” goes on a trace too long, and most of the “players” aren’t different enough to be identifiable, but such things are trifles.
This is a production worthy of opening the Grove and welcoming stalwarts and newcomers to its charms. It’s a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion if every one of its 476 seats isn’t filled for every performance.