Leave it to the flamboyant, longtime artistic director of the Plaza Players to bill himself over William Shakespeare. Which is exactly what he's done in the Ventura company's current production, officially titled "Michael Maynez' Madness, a Midsummer Night's Dream."
With all due respect to Maynez, though, we'll stick to the original title for the duration of this review.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is said to have been commissioned to be performed at a wedding feast--exactly whose is open to speculation, as is, indeed, the entire notion. But the play remains one of The Bard's frothiest concoctions.
Maynez's direction, with choreography by Pamela Pilkenton, retains the lightness and adds enough low comedy silliness that this production--on the fantastic activities in and around a royal Athenian court--is occasionally reminiscent of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," without straying too far from Shakespeare.
The huge cast--22 players crowd the stage for encores--is divided into four sections, whose members interact to form the play's actions. Both Shakespeare's writing and the current production result in some groups being more interesting (and better realized) than others.
Hugh McManigal, Alan Price, Kat Stenglein and Jaye Hersh group and regroup as young lovers Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia and Helena. They're the Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice of Shakespeare, and in Maynez's hands, Hermia and Helena occasionally seem to show as much interest in each other as in the menfolk who comically vie for their attentions.
Despite Virginia Streat's undeniable skill with a Shakespearean line (an ability that's unevenly distributed throughout the cast), the members of the court--her Hippolyta, Richard Goad's Theseus and Irv Citron's Egeus--come off as the least interesting faction of the play; their parts merely serve to keep the more interesting action going.
James L. Leslie, Debra Massarella and J. Elmo Stokely are fairy king Oberon, his wife, Titania, and his jester, Puck. Oberon and Puck, especially, are the chief mischief-makers here, and Stokely gives his character a particularly physical interpretation; he's all over the stage and even up in the air.
Actor/dancers Melissa Fair, Babette Brennan, Brenda Kenworthy, Claire Wilson and Tara Lyle appear as fairies who supply much of the show's movement and color, evidently Pilkenton's main contribution. Christine Couvillion's enthusiastic delivery of the prologue and first act closing speeches, conceived for this production by Maynez and written by Hersh, are especially noteworthy.
Whenever the troupe headed by Jeffrey Britt as fey playwright Peter Quince hit the stage, everything else fades into the background.
Gary Lunn's a standout as Nick Bottom, the self-centered performer who'd just as soon play all the roles in the play-within-a-play "Pyramus and Thisby" by himself. And, who in one of Puck's pranks, finds himself the object of fairy queen Titania's affection while wearing the head of an ass. Lunn's coincidental resemblance to rock singer Sting and actor Ed Harris add to the amusement. Jereme Leslie, Andrew Walters and Richard Goss fill out the troupe as Flute, Philostrate and Snout.
Garrison Keenan Barrett appears briefly as The Indian Boy, one of Titania's attendants. The costumes, credited to actresses Streat, Hersh, Massarella and Fair, are as ornate, imaginative and altogether marvelous as Doug Stuart, James Angle and Stokely's effective set is minimal.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"Michael Maynez' Madness, A Midsummer's Night's Dream" continues Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights through April 13 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 North Palm St., Ventura. Tickets are $6 Wednesdays, $7.50 Fridays and $8.50 Saturdays. For reservations or further information, call (805) 643-9460.