With a track record of hits sustained by its artists, it's not surprising the La Jolla Playhouse could take a script that's four centuries old and craft it into an evening of entertainment those in attendance will remember long after leaving the theater. Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has never been so extraordinarily delightful.
From the moment patrons walk into the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre and glimpse the set, they're captivated.
The lavish Victorian parlor designed by Neil Patel ("Adoration of the Old Woman") features a roaring fireplace crowned by a large oval mirror. Billowing curtains top windows reaching two-stories high. A chandelier and piano adorn the room, which is spacious enough to host a ball. The sumptuous decor accents the story, which puts forth the premise "The course of true love never did run smooth," and off we go on a whimsical journey fueled by love and magical dreams ... and the great bard's imagination.
At a gathering of Court, Egeus (Jonathan McMurtry) challenges Bottom (Lucas Caleb Rooney) to solve his dilemma. Egeus' daughter Hermia (Amelia Campbell) is betrothed to Demetrius (Sean Mahon) but in love with Lysander (Tim Hopper), and he's having none of it.
The story then takes off into so many enchanted worlds it's at once funny, heartwarming and astonishing. "Midsummer" is known for having two worlds, one right side up (reflecting the Court) and another upside down (transitioning to the forest). The first time the huge piano moves toward the ceiling while turning upside down and later has players sitting upside down while playing tunes, it's obvious this is no ordinary production.
When, against her father's wishes, Hermia and Lysander plan to sneak away from Court and marry, Hermia makes the mistake of telling her girlfriend Helena (J. Smith-Cameron). Helena is in love with Demetrius and infuriated that he wants Hermia who does not love him. Helena decides to tell Demetrius about Hermia's plans in hopes of gaining his favor. Instead the leak sparks an unimaginable trip to a topsy-turvy world.
The two men in the love quartet are bewitched by Bottom's schemes as he himself tries to capture the heart of Titania (Charlayne Woodard — also Hippolyta). At his beckon is the peculiar Puck and a host of fairies that can climb walls, hang upside down, and ascend from the sky on swirling scarves.
The thread through this unpredictable world is the delightful music by composer Mark Bennett performed by the orchestra —professional musicians AND members of the San Diego Youth Symphony. A small ensemble sits on the stage and the larger company is visible outside the windows. Composing original music along with using some of Felix Mendelssohn's 1842 original music, Bennett's efforts are meant not as a backdrop, but an invisible "visitor" on the set that drives every action and enhances every reaction. Each lovely note lends itself to a heightened imagination.
The eye-candy costumes in the show cover a wide array of styles. Designer David C. Woodard certainly had his work cut out for him in creating regal attire for the Court regulars, whimsical apparel for the fairies, and even more bizarre outfits for the theatrical troupe that entertains at Court.
The cast is extremely talented, playing every character to perfection. The Tony-award nominated Woodard is a stand out in her musical numbers and amusing seduction of Puck, a member of the troupe played by Martin Moran who practically steals every scene he's in. The four lovers excel at being heartfelt and amusing at the same time. The fairy cast is made up of incredible acrobats and puppeteers who bedazzle every second on the scene.
Amassing a production of this size so diverse in its nature takes an inventive and even hand. Tony-award nominated ("Memphis") Artistic Director Christopher Ashley continues to raise the bar with every production he oversees, and his collaboration on and direction of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" reaches new heights.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
"Wonderful. Fabulous fantasy!"
— Leanne MacDougall, La Jolla
"I'm biased. My wife's one of the fairies ... still it's excellent. I've been hearing about it for the past month and it's all that and more."
— Jason Post, UTC
"I'm in love! The props ... everything they did ... you'll be captivated. It's mystical."
— Tricia Tishler, Carmel Valley
IF YOU GO
'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 22
Where: La Jolla Playhouse's Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre