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What gifted fools these mortals be

September 08, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

As summer draws to an end, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" returns to the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum and closes the 2007 repertory season in triumph. This open-air staging of Shakespeare's evergreen romantic comedy reminds us anew why the play endures outside temporal reality and why the production is a company staple.

It's not just that the incomparable visual and acoustic contours of the Botanicum's natural amphitheater supply more atmosphere than a score of effects specialists could rival. Or that director Melora Marshall, a veteran of many a "Midsummer" here, deploys a large alternating cast around every hill and dale to seamless effect.

From the tribal drumming at the first tableau of Theseus and Hippolyta, unaffected merriment is on display, and it only deepens as the sagely pruned text progresses. With the arrival of the four thwarted Athenian lovers, followed by the hempen, homespun artisans turned thespians, it's clear that everyone is inhabiting these roles with poised spontaneity and physical abandon. And when Puck (David Pintado) swings on a rope to launch the magical element, time and space melt away, as the immortal fantasia goes about its crowd-pleasing, spell-casting matrimonial business.

Arrayed in costume designer Cynthia Herteg's muted yet serviceable regalia -- the fairies resemble pieces of an exploded dream catcher -- the ensemble immerses itself in storytelling.

The Lysander and Demetrius of Jason Greenfield and Christopher W. Jones deftly align, resist and reconnoiter with Samara Frame's petulant Hermia and Willow Geer's rangy Helena -- a delicious comic quartet. Michael McFall and Abby Craden bring Oberon and Titania to vivid life, suggesting a tatterdemalion satyr and a pagan Auntie Mame at odds over Judah Lewis' adorable changeling child.

At the reviewed performance, Mike Peebler went on for Thad Geer as Bottom and acquitted himself with Pythonesque aplomb. His mechanical colleagues -- Earnestine Phillips (Quince), Dylan Vigus (Flute), James Jaboro (Snout), Joe Lorenzo (Snug) and David Stifel (Starveling) -- were equally hilarious.

Thus it goes across the board, from fight choreographer Aaron Hendry's self-effacing authority as Theseus to the irresistibility of Titania's retinue, many culled from the company's youth program. If you haven't been to the Botanicum yet this season or, heaven forfend, have never been, attending this bewitching revival shall restore amends.


'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Where: Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga

When: In repertory through Sept. 30

Price: $20 to $25

Contact: (310) 455-3723 or

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

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