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Theatre Review: Two Takes On A Midsummer Night's Dream



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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Sacramento Theatre Company sets its production in the early 1900s, with costumes that look Turn-of-the-Century, music that includes some early jazz, and no effort to do English accents - in other words, consider this an "American" Dream. And director Christine Nicholson works this Shakespeare standard by amping up the frantic physical comedy. The constant activity feels a little like slapstick . . . one guy even does an acrobatic flip. And Nicholson encourages her actors to add embellishments. In this scene, two actors pretend to be roaring lions, waving their hands like mighty paws, recalling the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."

(Roaring)

Matt Miller as Bottom: "Let me play the lion, too. I will roar that I will do any man's heart good that hears me. I will roar that the Duke will say 'Let him roar again! Let him roar again!'"

The Bard wrote the words, the actors apply the spin. Shakespeare would probably approve.

Director Nicholson mines almost every aspect of the play for laughs - including the frequent tension between men and women. When the fairy queen Titania gets angry at her husband, she goes so far over the top that the audience immediately titters with delight.

Titania: "Not for thy fairy kingdom!"

(Laughter).

But in the other production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," at Sierra Stages, director Jac Royce treats the same scene with the attitude that Titania's anger is very real and very serious.

Titania: "Not for thy fairy kingdom!" (Icy silence.)

It's like Titania is heading for Fairyland divorce court -- and no one in the theater is giggling. The way director Royce sees it, this is a play in which the clouds sometimes gather and the sky grow dark, even though we know it's a comedy.
 
This is not to say that the Sierra Stages show avoids laughs. Things get silly when Bottom -- a wanna-be actor with a huge ego -- hams things up while performing a death scene, smirking as he pretends to stab himself.

Bottom: "Tongue, lose thy light! Moon, take thy flight! Now die! Die! Die! Diiieee!"

The Sierra Stages production is also distinctly Irish, with Celtic music and lots of green in the costumes.

These two productions come in different sizes. STC uses just nine actors, with lots of double casting. Sierra Stages has 18 actors and a much more handsome set, with hanging fabric panels that invoke redwood trees.

So which of these shows is the better Dream? That depends on your preferences. If you like nonstop, over the top silliness, try the Sacramento Theatre Company. If a focus on poetry, broader emotions and handsome visuals is more your style, try Sierra Stages.

Or, if you're like me, you'll want to see both, comparing the different choices that the actors and directors made along the way.

The Sacramento Theater Company's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" continues through March 24th. The Sierra Stages production, at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City, continues through the 23rd.

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