No donkey’s ears necessary. Miles Anderson’s Bottom elicits hee-haws, guffaws and of course more sophisticated laughter in the Old Globe’s summertime production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of the 2013 Shakespeare Festival on the outdoor Lowell Davies stage. Though at times straying into Alfie Doolittle territory in this staging directed by Ian Talbot, Anderson is all good-natured giddiness, whether under the spell of the fairies or starring in a ludicrous Pyramus and Thisbe with his fellow Athenian craftsmen. The physicality of this production is well-suited to his comical antics.
In spite of Anderson’s rollicking presence throughout, this Midsummer is most beguiling in its keenly conceived fairyland sequences. These are charmingly enlivened by special “magical” effects, original music by Dan Moses Schreier and a cast of scamps and spell-weavers who flit about like wisps of gossamer. Jay Whittaker, so menacing in last year’s Shakespeare Festival as Richard III, is an athletic and scheming Oberon, king of the fairies. Bare chested, in tight trousers and with a shock of blonde-white hair, he looks like a Shakespearean Billy Idol, complete with self-satisfied scowl. Whittaker’s Oberon is abetted in his manipulation of lovers Lysander (Adam Gerber), Hermia (Winslow Corbett, the funniest), Demetrius (Nic Few) and Helena (Ryman Sneed) by the prankish Puck (Lucas Hall). A bubbly bathtub scene with the donkey-eared Bottom and the enamored (thanks to a spell) fairy queen Titania (Krystel Lucas) provides the best sight gag of the evening.
When the action shifts from the forest of the fairies to the court of Athens, this Midsummer misses some of its enchantment, if not its unflagging energy (this ensemble is working hard). Even the closing performance of Pyramus, the play within the play, is more music hall than magical.
This is an opulent but lengthy production, and keep in mind that though A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the ideal outdoor Shakespeare, it gets chilly in the theater by the time Bottom and company put on their hapless show for Theseus, Hippolyta and the four reunited, properly paired up, lovers. On opening night, blankets were as ubiquitous a sight as fairy dust
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.