You don’t have to be a Shakespeare lover to love the Hermosa Beach Playhouse production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gorgeous to look at and sparklingly performed by a talented cast who make Elizabethan English sound refreshingly modern, this Stephanie A. Coltrin-directed Midsummer Night’s Dream enchants and tickles the funny bone in equal measure.

It helps that A Midsummer Night’s Dream has one of the easiest to follow of Shakespeare’s plots. All you really need to know is that when Puck (servant to Oberon, King Of The Fairies) dabs a bit of magical flower juice on the eyelids of any of the dramatis personae, he or she will fall instantly in love with the very first person he or she sees upon awakening—a plot “hook” that could work just as well in a 21st Century romcom as it does in this 400-plus-year-old classic.

Here are the basics:

Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia’s imperious father Egeus is forcing her to marry Demetrius.  Hermia’s bff Helena carries a torch for ex-boyfriend Demetrius but he wants nothing more to do with her.  When the quartet of mismatched lovers head off to a nearby forest, Puck mistakenly anoints Lysander’s eyelids with magic juice, causing the young man to fall for Helena. Soon after, Demetrius gets the same magic juice applied to his eyelids (just before gazing at Helena) and Helena suddenly finds herself with a pair of lovestruck suitors and poor Hermia with none.  

Elsewhere in the woods, a band of strolling craftsmen are busy rehearsing a play about Pyramus and Thisbe.  When impish Puck transforms the head of their leader Bottom into that of an ass, then applies some magic juice to the eyelids of sleeping Titania, it’s donkey-headed Bottom who becomes the object of her royal affection.

Soon, Hermia and Helena are cat-fighting, Demetrius and Lysander exchanging blows, and the troupe of players donning costumes for The Most Lamentable Comedy, And Most Cruel Death Of Pyramus And Thisbe.

Fortunately for all concerned, all’s well that ends well—with a trio of blissful couples united in the play’s romantic finale—all of this staged by Coltrin with her accustomed panache.

The all-around terrific Playhouse cast includes four Equity guest artists (Douglas Bilitch as Athenian Duke Theseus and as Oberon, King of the Fairies; Mike Kersey as Snout, the tinker; Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper as Bottom, the weaver; and Brad Standley as Lysander), Suzanne Dean (South Bay Cities’ answer to Meryl Streep), and a dozen more up-and-coming young talents.

Cylan Brown (Demetrius), Michaelia Leigh (Hermia), Beth Moline (Helena), and Standley have just the right good looks and charm to bring the star-crossed lovers to romantic life and the physical comedy skills to make the fight sequences sizzle, particularly the catfight between Leigh and Moline, one of the best since Krystle and Alexis duked it out on Dynasty.

Bilitch and Dean blend hauteur and grace as two pairs of royal monarchs, their Shakespearean chops making the Bard sound almost contemporary. Joel Bryant effectively creates two very different characters—the domineering Egeus and Quince, leader of the strolling troupe who call themselves The Mechanicals.

Kersey, Cody Lyman (Snug, the tinker), Mongiardo-Cooper, Andrew Oberstein (Flute, the bellow-mender), and Jason Thomas (Starveling, the tailor) complete The Mechanicals, and unlike a lot of Shakespearean clowns, these guys are really funny—hilarious enough to merit their own live Saturday night TV show. As the group’s leader, scene-stealing Mongiardo-Cooper gets the most to do (and the most laughs), with or without the donkey head. Oberstein is fetchingand funny in pigtailed drag as Thisbe, and Kersey milks his every moment as the wall through whose chink Pyramus and Thisbe declare their doomed love.

Ryland Dodge is terrifically charismatic as the mischievous Puck, surrounded by a bevy of enchanting blonde sprites (Sean Cruz as Mustardseed, Aimée Fortier as Moth, Tess McCarthy as Cobweb, and Anne Underwood as Pease-blossom), in perpetual fairy-like motion to Heather Castillo gracefully choreographed moves.  Cruz also doubles effectively out of fairy drag as messenger Philostrate.

It’s a real treat to see Shakespeare staged on Christopher Beyries’ flower-garlanded set, lit in rich, magical hues by Ric Zimmerman, with some great sparkle effects. Sound designer Kevin Goold backs the action with a bewitching, almost nonstop musical soundtrack. Christa Armendariz costumes the mortals in early 19th Century elegance and the fairies in fanciful forest wear.  Nicole Wessel is production stage manager.  Dane Biren is assistant stage manager.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ends the Hermosa Beach Playhouse’s 2009-10 season on a high note indeed.  I’ve rarely had more fun watching Shakespeare than at this Late Spring Dream of a production.

Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 170 Pier Avenue, Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach.

–Steven Stanley
June 1, 2010
                                                                                 Photos: Alysa Brennan


Comments are closed.