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STAGE REVIEW

A Rich, Hindu-Influenced 'Midsummer'

May 22, 1997|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's a little early for a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," but perhaps the refreshing Hindu-influenced version at the Stella Adler Theatre will extend into midsummer. This is a rich, multilayered production featuring live music (by musical director David Trasoff), puppets (created by Aida Dragomir), wonderful costuming (Sherry Grider) and dancing.

In 1995, the Grove Theater Center in Garden Grove also put puppets into its "Midsummer," ranging from a clunky, towering fairy queen and king to undifferentiated afterthoughts. What that group attempted to achieve is fully realized at the Stella Adler in director Michael Michetti's version, which incorporates distinctive rod puppets as members of the fairy court.

Yet Michetti's aim isn't excellence in puppetry. This comedy boldly transports Shakespeare to the British Raj and gives subtle social commentary by contrasting the British colonists (Theseus' court)--so smug in their believed superiority--with the foolish native tradesmen led by a good-naturedly conceited Bottom (Shelley Malil).

Michetti then eschews the play's customary parallel universe paradigm. Theseus (Scott Vance) and Hippolyta (Alice Amter as an Indian queen) do not become monarchs in the fairy world. As a result the humans--Brits and Indians alike--are subject to the mischievous machinations of the arrogantly virile Rama/Oberon (Leon Morenzie) and the elegantly defiant Sita/Titania (Luck Hari), the traditional Hindu gods.

Despite her slender frame, Hari's physical presence matches Morenzie's muscular rock-like threat. With her graceful gestures and sensuous movements, Hari seduces the audience while Morenzie thunders and broods. Valdon Sohaili is a graceful half-monkey/half-man Puck--a charming, naughty, put-upon fellow.

The lost lovers--Hermia (Wendy Abas) and Lysander (Sean Francis Howse) and Demetrius (John Elges) and Helena (Shannon O'Hurley)--pale in comparison, although all four play the physical comedy aspects well. Howse's attractive Lysander projects an element of smug smarminess, explaining why Egeus (David Kramer Rogers) objects to the match. And although Elges plays such a fool that one wonders what Helena pines for, O'Hurley is so funny as a feisty and lustful lass, it doesn't really matter. J. Philip Lester choreographed the lovers' fight scenes with great wit and flair.

Completing the picture is Albert Cox's minimalist set design, which uses banners and umbrellas quite effectively for scene changes. Malathi Ingengar's choreography integrates these transitions with visual interest.

BE THERE

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Ends June 8. $22. (818) 789-TIXX. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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