This stage review was written by Ashley Na, an associate member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. She is a student majoring in journalism at San Diego State University.
What is a Valentine’s month without quirky love perfumes, mysterious herbs and a mix of Shakespearean magic?
The Old Globe and the University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program is staging a relatively modern twist on the comedic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Unlike Shakespeare’s story which is set in Athens, Greece during the late 1500s, this adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” starts in 1942 at Athens Motor Factory, during World War II and the height of industrialization and economic boom.
Directed by Sam White, this virtual, pre-recorded production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” explores the complicated topic of love, jealousy and conflict through several subplots such as the complex relationships between four Athens factory lovers: Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius. Alongside the messy relationships, there is also a group of six actors rehearsing the play “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the wedding of the duke Theseus and Hippolyta. All these people find their emotions muddled and manipulated by a love perfume, administered by the cupid-like Oberon and the mischievous Puck.
The cast includes Jonathan Aaron Wilson (Demetrius), Jacqui Dupré (Hermia), Klarissa Marie Robles (Helena), Henian Boon (Lysander), Clarie Simba (Puck, Philostrate) and Christopher Cruz (Oberon, Thesus). Simba’s mercurial portrayal of Puck, for one, is memorable as she uses different musical elements to highlight Puck’s reckless and fun-loving personality. Although the musical pieces performed by Simba come into the play without any warning, that in itself depicts the sudden and continuous shifts of the character’s personality.
Cruz’s portrayal of Oberon is rather weak in comparison to Simba’s Puck. Despite the fact that Puck is Oberon’s right hand man, Cruz’s depiction is less bold.
Wilson, Dupré, Robles and Boon all complement each of the characters perfectly. For example, Wilson and Boon depict Demetrius and Lysander as similar characters in personality, but diametrically opposed rivals, while Dupré and Robles characterize Hermia and Helena as two women helplessly in love, both triggered by jealousy for each other from the perfume.
Although the plot line generally follows Shakespeare’s original play with only the changes of settings and time period, this telling is at once both modernized and dated. Unlike the small details of Rosie the Riveter posters which signified women’s empowerment during the early to mid 1940s, this society still follows the sexist and misogynistic reality of Shakespeare’s original time frame of Athens, Greece in 1595.
For instance, Hermia is shamed when she does not fulfill her father, Egeus’ wishes for her to marry Demetrius. Additionally, Demetrius forces himself upon Hermia despite continuous rejections and only loves her for her physical appearance and prosperity.
On the upside, director White employs a racially diverse ensemble of actors.
This production is socially distanced and seems to have been recorded in a specific room during the majority of the play. Later, all of the actors reappear on the stage. Considering this, the background was very consistent and in sync during each shot of the actors and actresses. However, there were moments when Robles’ camera started to shake, revealing that she was holding onto something resembling a selfie stick. There were other small audio issues including muffled, inaudible voices when the performers were all on the stage.
Despite some flaws, the small black and white video clips of machinery and factory workers, the creative use of special effects when Simba was spraying the love perfume and transforming Bottom to a donkey and small musical-style numbers, made us feel as if we were watching a movie rather than watching a traditional, classic Shakespearean play. This interpretation is interesting to watch as we await the ultimate fates of each character.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” presented by The Old Globe and the University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program is watchable, free of charge, until Feb. 28
The ensemble cast of "cul-de-sac," via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Coronado Playhouse
NOTE: This "Stage West" theater review is by Ashley Na, associate critic in the San Diego Theater Critics Circle and a student at San Diego State University.
Coronado Playhouse’s “cul-de-sac” is quite the definition of “keeping up with the Joneses” and shows the various extents people will go to to achieve their idealized “American dream.” Presented in a virtual, Zoom platform, “cul-de-sac” allows us to see the dysfunctional, toxic and deteriorated lives of three suburban families: the Smiths, the Joneses and the Johnsons with a twist of dark humor and satire.
Written by John Cariani and directed by Sean Paul Boyd, the play is centered on the lives of the Joneses and the neighbors around them who envy their seemingly perfect lives starting with their cars, the painted walls of their house, their perfect green lawn. The Joneses are seen as a picture- perfect family by the Smiths and the Johnsons. Although these three families all have a happy public life, their private lives are far from it. They are all grieving for the death of their hope. The Joneses are filled with regret for their decisions to have children and decide to “downsize,” the Smiths are still recovering from the loss of their child and the Johnsons are finding solutions to their unhappy lives and marriage.
The characters (portrayed Ashley Graham, Hunter Brown, Alyssa Anne Austin, Bayani DeCastro Jr., Jena Joyce and Steven Jensen) constitute one big, endless circle of misery. Their lives are a great disparity between what they want others to perceive them as, and what their reality is. If this disparity continues, all of these characters would continue their miserable lives, in false hopes that someday, someone or something can truly make them happy.
“Cul-de-sac” is a dark satire, which mocks those who are materialistic and idolize the nonexistent American dream. There is a sense of awkwardness that makes us feel uncomfortable during certain dialogues exchanges by different characters. For instance, Austin’s character Diane Johnson, is more concerned with changing the color of her walls than being worried about her unconscious husband whom she tried getting rid of with a frying pan, for the sake of finding her own happiness. It makes us feel as if we are in a cul-de-sac, a dead end. Nothing new or exciting. Just the same old people and same old “uninteresting” events in life. Perhaps it is our own perception of how we live our lives that is supposed to change. Others' perception of how we live does not matter. Happiness is something that is earned by us, not given to us by other people.
The production features a diverse cast. However there are evident flaws and limitations throughout this production. Graham’s microphone blared to a point where static was audible whenever the actress spoke a little louder than normal. Brown’s screen wasn’t the best quality compared to the other actors and actresses. The screen background of some actors was not the most consistent-- although most with a clean white wall, Decastro Jr.’s panel interior divider was a minor distraction. Most importantly, there was a terrible lag and moments of cut dialogue due to the connectivity problems.
Despite these shortcomings on the technical side, “cul-de-sac” is a peculiar play which deals with highly possible, everyday scenarios for many modern-day families who even when seeking happiness may be regretting their choices as they envy the seemingly happy lives of their neighbors, close family friends and others around them.
-- Ashley Na
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.