Shakespeare still packs 'em in. There wasn't a vacant seat in sight at the opening of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at South Coast Repertory — and after word gets out, there'll likely be few throughout the run.
The Bard's most visually attractive, not to mention most accessible, comedy is — like other plays in the Shakespearean canon — open to conceptual interpretation. And director Mark Rucker puts his stamp of scintillating showmanship on the SCR production.
At South Coast, there's a futuristic feel to this Elizabethan frolic as Cameron Anderson's awe-inspiring setting illustrates. The Athenian court and the wooded domain of the mischievous fairies are strikingly larger than life, the latter a magnificent playground for the sprites who inject themselves into the travails of four young lovers.
Rucker's company thrives on the punchline to transform this classical comedy into an all-stops-out farcical romp as all four romantics are depantsed by the gleeful fairies and spend most of their woodsy sojourn scampering in their scantiest.
The director is well aware that the issue of conflict between Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies — possession of an abandoned child — is superfluous, and he bears down as lightly as possible on this aspect while concentrating on the wild and crazy antics of the lovers and on the hammy actor affixed with the head of a donkey, to which a magic potion has attracted Titania.
It's all familiar territory, but the joy of this production is in the manner Rucker and his cast approach it. The fairies are all male, a departure from modern form but more faithful to Shakespearean roots. And Puck could be a 16th century Fonzie, garbed in a derby hat and a shorts outfit composed of men's ties.
The acting is universally outstanding, with Susannah Schulman's earthy Titania topping a lengthy list of overachievers. Schulman, clad in as little as the law allows, revels in her commandeering character richly endowed with stealth and spirit in her volatile clashes with Oberon, a majestic Elijah Alexander.
Rob Campbell's Puck is a rebellious sprite, manipulating the actions of the four Athenian lovers with glee and gusto. Of that quartet, Dana Green's Helena is a standout, fending off the amorous advances of both Demetrius and Lysander after they've been touched by Puck's erotic potion.
Kathleen Early as Hermia, left high and dry by the magical machinations, excels in bursts of seething outrage. Both Demetrius (Tobie Windham) and Lysander (Nick Gabriel) stir the passions of romantic rivalry without becoming overly intense.
The half-dozen "mechanicals" — tradesmen rehearsing an abysmal tragedy for presentation at the duke's wedding feast — make off with as much stage as humanly possible, with Patrick Kerr's loquacious weaver Bottom earning highest marks. Hal Landon Jr. scores gleefully as the erstwhile director of the playlet, while William Francis McGuire is hilarious as an oversized "female" object of Bottom's adoration.
John-David Keller's Snug has little to say but much to roar as the actor cast as a lion who's concerned about scaring his audience. Michael Manuel and SCR veteran Richard Doyle complete the coterie of zanies.
The costumes, by Nephelie Andonyadis, are riotous displays of satirical genius. Lap Chi Chu's lighting effects are perfectly chosen, while the choreography of Ken Roht and the original music of Roht and John Ballinger beautifully support the show, occasionally turning Shakespeare's lines into lyrics.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is one of Shakespeare's more popular plays — this is its third time around for SCR — and the current production will delight both purists and newcomers.
A gripping 'All My Sons' revival in Newport
Before Arthur Miller wrote classic plays on the theatrical world such as "Death of A Salesman," "The Crucible" and "A View From the Bridge," he attained his first Broadway success with "All My Sons." This play, written two years after the end of World War II, targeted the conscience of those still nursing their war wounds.
Now enjoying a riveting revival at the Newport Theater Arts Center, "All My Sons" is Miller's most accessible work, and the first in which his recurring themes of ethical responsibility and morality begin to surface. Had he not succeeded with this one, the chances of audiences ever seeing the other three were slight.
"All My Sons" focuses on the family of a middle-American manufacturer whose defective airplane parts may have cost several pilots' lives in wartime. The manufacturer had briefly served prison time but was exonerated, while his partner remains incarcerated.
Further complicating the situation is the manufacturer's son and the partner's daughter, who discover their love for one another even though she was engaged to the son's brother — a pilot missing in action, whose death is unacceptable to his tortured mother.
At Newport, director David Colley has assembled a particularly strong cast for this brutally powerful drama, eliciting some superb performances against the backdrop of Andrew Otero's richly detailed backyard setting.