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SOC Won't Reinterpret This 'Dream' : Stage: Director Bradac opts for a familiar, traditional approach to the Shakespearean comedy. It opens tonight at Chapman University's Waltmar Theatre.

August 18, 1995|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Thomas F. Bradac knows what it's like to tickle a fresh angle out of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

*

In a 1988 production he directed for the Chapman University drama department, Bradac dropped Puck, Oberon, Titania and a menagerie of lovers, clowns and fairies in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for a '60s flower-power take on the Bard's most famous comedy. Characters smoked pot and flashed the peace sign when things got sticky.

Bradac says that production was a kick. But these days, the founder of Shakespeare Orange County prefers a more customary approach. His SOC staging of "Dream" (which opens tonight at Chapman's Waltmar Theatre) more closely follows the path Shakespeare mapped out, while looking for more subtle invention along the way.

"It's really the mission of our company [to] find the poetry that rings with an audience, within a more traditional setting," Bradac said. "We want to celebrate the play, not the [director's] concept. . . . No, we're not doing a New Orleans version."

Bradac was referring to the recent La Jolla Playhouse "Dream" that received praised for its unique stylings. As conceived by Marion McClinton, the show, which closed Sunday, had a Big Easy flavor, with a musical sway incorporating jazz, ragtime and doo-wop.

While Bradac admires that production, he said such playing around risks blurring the beauty of Shakespeare's language. It's a chance he doesn't want to take at SOC.

"Instead of putting it in a '54 Buick or something like that, we want to go to the internal exploration as opposed to the external," he explained. "We're going against the trend [with many playhouses] to modernize and update.

"That can be fun--and I don't want to put people down who do it--but you don't really need to find an external gloss or an idiosyncratic element to make it accessible."

Bradac maintains that what makes "Dream" accessible is its familiarity. Even those who don't read Shakespeare or don't normally attend plays know something about this phantasmagoric romp through the forest.

For anybody who doesn't know the basic setting, the story gets going when Egeus wants his headstrong daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius and asks the Duke to help persuade her. But she's not buying it; she's in love with Lysander.

If that's not trouble enough, more comes from Helena, Hermia's best friend, who loves Demetrius. To escape all these headaches, Lysander and Hermia flee to the woods, encountering the supernatural and romantic in a wild hayride for mortals and gods alike.

All the smart shenanigans have made "Dream" one of Shakespeare's most popular plays and probably his most frequently produced, said Bradac. When asked why SOC, which has staged more weighty dramas including "King Lear," "Hamlet" and the relatively obscure "Richard III," would choose "Dream," Bradac said he's recently been asked the question several times.

"Oh, yeah, a lot of people have said, 'Why should I see this again?' " he said. "Sure there's a drawback in that ['Dream'] has definitely been done a lot in Southern California. But I think it can hold up to a great deal of examinations."

Besides, Bradac continued, the production may bring in a large audience. Although he said SOC's ticket sales have been healthy ("We're in the black. 'Richard III' did well, and 'King Lear' was our best attended"), the troupe can always use a show that appeals to the entire family.

While some might argue that Shakespeare's language, no matter how frothy, is still too dense for children, Bradac feels there is much in "Dream' for youngsters to enjoy. The comedy's action, color and basic playfulness should keep kids involved, or so he hopes.

Bradac did caution that the SOC production probably wouldn't be appropriate for children under 8--he thinks 10 or older would be the best ages.

"I think that if there is a play that's a good introduction to Shakespeare, this is the one," said Bradac. "We don't want to pander to families and say this is a child's play, because it isn't. It's best for kids who are used to listening. . . . Parents will have to be the judge."

* Shakespeare Orange County's production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opens tonight at Chapman University's Waltmar Theatre, 301 E. Palm St., Orange. 8 p.m. Continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sept. 16. $21-$23. (714) 744-7016.

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