A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Directed by Patricia McGregor

A High Dose of Visual Stimulation, Fast Rhythm, and a Darn Good Time. 

Just What the Doctor Ordered      -Literally-  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

The Old Globe has been known to stage the most aesthetic and deep Shakespeare productions. Sometimes TV and or film celebrities add to the shine. I believe that this year definitely, they have stepped it up a couple of notches and have challenged themselves createvely on those stages creating a bridge for dialogue with audiences through these new productions. Understandably, the Shakespeare show and topics must lend themselves to the fun and the game. This summer, their production of The Taming of the Shrew bringing back the outdoor Shakespeares after a two-year hiatus came back with an absolute bang with a lot of action, music, and just, overall fun. The second summer show, currently running until September 4, is A Midsummer Night’s Dream and of course, the mecca of possibilities and exploration within the Shakespeares. I guess that is why every theatre and its sister company in the country decided to produce it this year? Possibly... This production is extra special in a couple of ways because Patricia McGregor who directed the piece, also directed Midsummer's Globe for All Tour in 2018 along with other tours and projects as a Resident Artist at The Globe, and as she now goes to fulfill the role of Artistic Director at Manhattan’s New York Theatre Workshop, she leaves San Diego a legacy of creative direction and innovation.

Now...the play: Coming into the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre feels like coming into one of those outdoor cocktail mingling parties. There is music and to the right is DJ Miki Vale taking it away, setting the mood, and rapping the pre-show announcement. If that does not pump an audience member, I do not know what will. Miki also did the original music that plays throughout the performance. The production is a combination of musical theatre history nodding to iconic musicals, Hollywood, and contemporary storytelling that goes for the challenge and is inclusive. The opening at the enchanted forest is a battle scene ninja-style, pumped, and fast-paced led by the fiery Camilla Leonard in the role of Hippolyta. The audience gasps and cheer with surprise can be heard throughout the scene. A play that traditionally starts softly and playfully greets audiences with badass combat with the enchanted creatures in black latex, oh my! Apologies if this reference does not do it justice but Leonard seems to be straight from a Jackie Chan movie which I understand is Chinese and Camilla is I believe Japanese or half Japanese, but hopefully I can get a mental picture here. Perfect high kicks, agility, mobility, and lots of attitude in a long pulled-back braid that also gave me Game of Thrones vibes. The stellar team behind these types of scenes that take an army did it again. David Israel Reynoso with his signature, beautiful and so modern costume design, the lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge, sound design, and additional music by Melanie Chen Cole, and, fight consultation by Ka’imi Kuoha and Jake Millgard who also plays Bottom, a role he played in the 2018 GFA Tour too. 

(from left) Jamie Ann Romero as Hermia and Celeste Arias as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

After that adrenaline boost, the scene that unleashes everything begins and it seems "traditional" enough until it is not...Egeus brings Hermia his daughter to the Duke because he wants her married to Demetrius but Hermia refuses because she's in love with Lysander. Egeus is normally played by Victor Morris who I would have loooooved to see in this role. In the performance I saw, the role was played marvelously by Jared Van Heel. The Hermia and Lysander duo is hilarious! Jamie Ann Romero as the rebellious daughter Hermia is tiny but mighty and incredibly funny exchanging a lot of game with the Lysander gender switch played by Bernadette Sefic. Adding the other couple in the mix, Celeste Arias as ignored and unreciprocated Helena and Jeffrey Rashad as Demetrius. The funny quartet moves around the WHOLE space, and when I say whole I mean off the stage, up and down the stairs, interacting with the audience. It was fun in the beginning but then it became a tad tedious because it was too much and those stairs are too many so, so having them run up and down often, would take people out. I do have to say that the actors play it off professional and smooth as they adlib phrases like "oh I am tired" and "my, those are a lot of stairs". 

There were quite a few cast swaps in the Saturday night performance I saw. Jude Tibeau played the tricky Oberon and it was HOT along with his queen Titania played by Karen Aldridge, they brought fire to the stage. It was just great theatre, very visual with shades of purple and green, -lots of green-, especially with Puck, played by Christopher Michael Rivera who had a huge fohawk with a very modern lycra one-piece and chunky boots that gave me galaxy vibes. Seriously, David Israel Reynoso is a master at this wardrobe endeavor. It is so artistic and popping. 

The ensemble is great, there is a rhythmic harmony between their interactions, and as an audience member, it is appreciated. There is so much stimulation visually that, keeping up the pace and knowing what is going on is key and not always a win in these entangled stories. With that said, the acting troupe within the play, The Mechanicals led by Peter Quince who in this production is portrayed by Becca Lustgarten are also pretty funny. I felt them to be a little isolated from the plot at times but still, it was great. There is no role that Jake Millgard cannot make his own. This is an actor that knows his craft well and molds it differently in each performance. That is not an easy task.

Karen Aldridge as Titania and Paul James as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is around the 10th or 11th one at The Old Globe which has been the most produced Shakespeare at the theatre since 1937. Woah... Reading the program is always a good idea but in this case, I urge everyone to read it from beginning to end, especially Director Patricia McGregor's interview where she discusses how this is her love letter to theatre and Sonia Desai's (a Ph.D. candidate in the joint program in Drama and Theatre at the University of California Irvine and the University of California San Diego) explanation of Afrofuturism taken as inspiration for both McGregor and Reynoso to work on this play. 

Pieces like this, as I mentioned with so much visual stimulation and high paced are what society needs at this very moment where there is a predominant depression and gap after 2020. It is a loving and strong statement about setting a precedent, a model, and what is to come. 

I am looking forward to it.

To read the program with Patricia's interview, Sonia Desai's piece, and Barry Edelstein's letter click here.

For ticket purchase, performance times, and dates for Midsummer's click here.

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