A Midsummer in Barnsdall Park

A Midsummer Night's Dream
a kate west review
by William Shakespeare
directed by Melissa Chalsma
Independent Shakespeare Company
at Barnsdall Park
4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood 90027
running through September 2
tix free, reservations needed
contact (818) 710-6306 or www.independentshakespeare.com
(Sean Pritchett as Puck)

Love is ultimately fulfilling, enriching, euphoric and even noble. It can also be confusing, neurotic, irrational and even mad at times. Shakespeare understood this better than anyone and showcased such contradictions in one of his most popular plays, "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The members of the Independent Shakespeare Company do a terrific job mounting "Dream" in their outdoor venue at Barnsdall Park. Director Melissa Chalsma (also Hippolyta/Titania) culls intense performances from her actors and offers us an entertaining and quite accessible show.

Love is the main story here, apparent from the start, when Hermia (Maude Bonnani) begs her father Egeus (Bobby Plasencia) to allow her to marry her true love, Lysander (Erik Matthew), instead of Demetrius (Ahmad Enani). The royal court, represented by Duke Theseus (Freddy Douglas), commands she obey her father, to the displeasure of his fiancé Hippolyta. One puzzling Shakespearean choice is that Demetrius is apparently of the same age, stature and general qualities as Lysander, so it seems an unnecessarily arbitrary decision to force Hermia to marry the former. It must just be one of those maddening obstacles standing in the way of youth's ardor. At any rate, Hermia will have none of it and runs off to elope with Lysander, pursued by Demetrius and Helena (Aisha Kabia), lamentably spurned by her love Demetrius.

Also prominent in this classic Athenian tale are the day laborers or Mechanicals, who are rehearsing a tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisby for the upcoming royal nuptials. Bernadette Sullivan is a confident Peter Quince, the leader of the troupe, trying vainly to whip them into respectable shape. Playing the lead is Nick Bottom (the delightfully versatile and talented Danny Campbell). The whole gang is a lot of fun, from the gentle Snug (Bobby Pasencia) who timidly portrays a lion, to Matt Hurley's girly Francis Flute, resigned to play the doomed Thisby. Thomas Ehas is a likeable elderly Robin Starveling and Amy Urbina is fine as Tom Snout and the fairy Cobweb.

Everyone ends up in the enchanted forest, which is full of mayhem and mischief, in the form of a whole host of magical sprites. Sean Pritchett is a wonderfully strong, virile and rambunctious Puck, fairy minion to Oberon (the gallant Freddy Douglas), King of the Fairies. He leaps and bounds tirelessly throughout the show, winking at the audience and wreaking glorious havoc among all the characters. For starters, he causes the two pairs of lovers to love all the wrong people and then puts a donkey head on Bottom. Melissa Chalsma is the dignified and haughty Queen Titania, tricked into loving the half-man, half-donkey, as punishment for crossing her King. Her fairy entourage is adorable, from Mary Guilliams as Peaseblossom to Jinsoo Choi's Mustardseed (also the flute player).

The lovers are all entertaining and fun, although this particular Hermia is a slight problem. A native Italian, Maude Bonnani gives a valiantly energetic performance as Hermia, but is less sure with the actual text. While normally this would be less of a problem in a modern play, it is rather distracting in Shakespeare. Her scenes seem a bit slower paced than the rest. The two men, Erik Matthew as Lysander and Ahmad Enani as Demetrius, work well together, however and Aisha Kabia's Helena is fine.

Ultimately, the lovers are all properly reunited and everything is set to rights as they awaken the next morning as if from a dream. There is a triple wedding, of course, and the Mechanicals perform their hysterically inappropriate tragedy, much to the amusement of all. Oberon and Titania reconcile, as do their counterparts Theseus and Hippolyta. The double casting of Freddy Douglas (Theseus/Oberon) and Melissa Chalsma (Hippolyta/Titania) works well, by the way. As does Pritchett's Puck and Philostrate (assistant to Theseus).

Although there is no set, the costumes are all fantastic, from the Mechanicals charmingly simple woven garments to Puck's outrageously fun and furry red shorts. Costumer Rachel Ford Pritchett ingeniously outfits the actors in retro-modern garb, conveying an appropriate timelessness. The fairies are especially beautiful too and Titania's flowery bed is a cleverly decorated handcart. The actors provide the music, with flutes, guitar and makeshift drums, etc. Production-wise, it's a pretty simple affair, all the better to showcase the impressive strength of these professional thespians.

So if you're looking for a nice evening in the park, please support this company. They do Shakespeare right. Remember to bring a blanket, some picnic food, a jacket (it gets cold at night!) and maybe a low chair if you want to sit on the lawn, although there is limited seating available. And while the production is free, the gallant company members do rely on donations so make sure you drop a few quid their way.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (New Folger Library Shakespeare)

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