Christopher Michael Rivera (left) and Paul James in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo courtesy of the Old Globe Theatre.
What the Puck is going on here? Lysander, who was in love with Hermia, is now in love with Helena. Demetrius, who was also in love with Hermia, is now also in love with Helena? And Helena, who was in love with Demetrius, is now running for the hills. Hermia? Well, she’s still in love with Lysander, so now she thinks her BFF Helena is betraying her.
What fools these mortals be indeed.
It’s not mere mercurial behavior. They’re under the influence of the magic of Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck, a sprite who’s doing the bidding of Oberon, king of the faeries. Only Oberon didn’t exactly decree the wild and crazy ramifications of Puck’s misguided spell.
This is Act 3, Scene 2 of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” when all hysterical hell breaks loose. If you’re confused, you should be. That’s the charm of Shakespeare’s Athenian romp, dressed up for fantasy and populated by kings and queens, faeries, an eccentric acting troupe and those star-crossed lovers.
The Old Globe Theatre’s new production of “Midsummer” is the beneficiary of inspired direction from Patricia McGregor, who emphasizes the play’s rampant passions and slapstick physical comedy. While being true to these integral components, she contemporizes the goings-on, as with original music by hip-hop artist Miki Vale (also presiding from above as DJ), without undermining the heart of the play. Even the inclusion of Journey’s insufferable “Don’t Stop Believin’” is brief, and it’s not too jarring when Quince from the acting troupe chides a male colleague for “mansplaining.”
The DJ’s spoken preludes to scenes I could’ve lived without, but again, they’re quick and not intrusive.
Like all good “Midsummers,” this one is spectacularly turned out – David Israel Reynoso designed the costumes and the scenery on the Globe’s outdoor Festival Stage. Puck (Christopher Michael Rivera) is crowned by a green Mohawk, Titania (Karen Aldridge) looks right out of a glittery Vegas revue, and the ubiquitous faeries flit and float and dazzle.
For this “Midsummer,” Lysander (Bernadette Sefic) is a woman, adding nuance to her relationship with Hermia (Jamie Ann Romero) without screaming attention to it. Romero’s childlike exasperation is a crowd-pleaser.
They’re both outdone by Celeste Arias as the hapless Helena, who makes you want to root for her in the love department.
Among the theatrical players, the central figure is weaver Nick Bottom, played to the hilt by Jake Millgard. On opening night his mic seemed to cut out at one point, but that was no problem for him.
Puck is the comedy’s master of ceremonies. Rivera delivers the goods with all due precociousness.
For me, the perpetual issue with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is that though it moves swiftly through its multi-plot machinations, it must accommodate the long and labored performance for the court by Bottom and his cohorts at the end. This never seems to get funnier regardless of how many times I see the play, try as the actors playing the actors might.
Just goes to show Shakespeare wasn’t perfect.
Bottom line though (forgive me that): This Old Globe production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is suffused with otherworldly delights and vitality. That makes for an enchanting fairy tale.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through Sept. 4 on the Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Stage in Balboa Park.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.