What could more appropriate for theatre lovers on Fourth of July weekend then a smashing new production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Director/choreographer James Fowler has a new twist on the venerable old show. Forget about Queen Elizabeth’s court and other iterations of the old play. We still will be in Athens, but it is the antebellum Athens of the American deep South, replete with white plantation owners and slaves who toil in the field or serve in the big house.
When an audience enters into Atwater Village Theatre, they are greeted with a terrific set by scenic designer Jan Munroe and scenic artist Stephanie Crothers. The stage is divided into a parlor on house left, a rude dwelling house right, and a cotton field all across upstage. There is a withered tree next to the slave quarters with a rope hanging down to remind us that we are not in an Elizabethen playhouse.
A prologue with mime and dance precedes the show, and the kick off begins as, always, with the anticipation of the nuptials of the bright smooth talking slave owner, Theseus (Bryan Bertone who exudes elegant power) and his betrothed, Hippolyta (Heather Mitchell), not quite the Queen of the Amazon’s in this version of Shakespeare’s play.
The quartet of cross-purposed young lovers—Sandra Kate Burck as Hermia; Dylan Wittrock as Lysander; Anna-Laurie Rives and Ann Marie Wilding alternating as Helena; and Devon Armstrong and Nick Mizrahi alternating as Demetrius— lose themselves, as they must, in the woods, in the dark. Complicating the situation is Hermia’s daddy, Egeus (Alexander Wells), toting a gun.
The scene shifts to “the rude mechanicals,” Shakespearean comedians who rehearse a play in the woods with the goal of performing for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Debba Rofheart, as mild mannered Peter Quince, is the director, while Michael A. Shepperd (in a balls out comedic performance) leads as Bottom, the weaver. Others double as the remaining fairies and mechanicals, with Malik Bailey as Mustardseed and Flute; Syanne Green as Peaseblossom and Starvling; Erica Mae Mcneal as Cobweb and Snout; and Azeem Vecchio as Moth and Snug.
I have always loved the story of the forest fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the feud between the fairy king and queen. Oberon (Phillip C. Curry, tall of stature and deep of voice) is a schemer. Oberon’s entry line sings in my ears even now; “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.” Titania (Ash Saunders) protects an infant baby and tries to keep it away from the clutches of Oberon. But it is Puck (Monazia Smith) who travels the world in service as Oberon’s henchman, that always pleases an audience. Ms. Smith is indefatigable and energetic in the role.
Rounding out the creative staff are lighting designer Gavan Wyrick; sound designer Nayla Hull; costume designer Mylette Nora; prop masters Bruce Dickinson and Ina Shumaker; and assistant choreographer Faith Knapp. Amanda Weier is the production manager, and Carmella Jenkins associate produces. The production stage manager is the impeccable Jennifer Palumbo.
Open Fist Theatre Company, under the aegis of Artistic Director Martha Demson and the direction of James Fowler, have created a remarkable piece of theatre. Bravo!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through August 13 on
• Fridays at 8pm
• Saturdays at 8pm
• Sundays at 7pm at
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
• FREE parking in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) lot one block south of the theater.