There’s no more bewitching way to spend a midsummer night than under the stars at William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a quarter-century Theatricum Botanicum tradition.

Forested Topanga hills offer an ideal natural backdrop to Shakespeare’s classic tale of imperious royals, comic-relief-providing strolling players, and star-crossed lovers Lysander (Eric Flores) and Hermia (understudy Julia Lisa), in a tizzy about her impending forced marriage to Demetrius (Roman Guastaferro), whose ex Helena (Jordann Zbylski) still carries a torch.

When the quartet of mismatched lovers head off to a nearby forest, impish court jester Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck (Jackie Nicole) mistakenly anoints Lysander’s eyelids with magic love juice, causing the young man to fall for the first person he sets his eyes on (who just happens to be Helena), after which Demetrius gets the same magic potion applied to his eyelids, quickly gazes at Helena, and before you know it the object of their mutual affection suddenly finds herself with a pair of lovestruck suitors and poor Hermia with none.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the woods, a band of strolling players are busy rehearsing when Puck gives troupe leader Bottom (Christopher W. Jones) a donkey’s head, then applies some love juice to the eyelids of sleeping Queen  Titania (Melora Marshall), and the newly ass-faced Bottom finds himself the apple of Her Majesty’s eyes.

Soon, Hermia and Helena have their claws out, Demetrius and Lysander are exchanging blows, and the troupe of players are donning costumes to stage The Most Lamentable Comedy, And Most Cruel Death Of Pyramus And Thisbe.

Willow Geer directs A Midsummer Night’s Dream with abundant imagination and flair, making ingenious use of the outdoor amphitheater’s natural surroundings while eliciting one delightful performance after another with an emphasis on physical comedy that even Shakespeare naysayers can embrace.

Flores, Guastaferro, Lisa, and Zbylski are as charming and charismatic a quartet as any romcom lover could hope for, and funny to boot (a swoonworthy Flores’s transformation into lovestruck pooch is downright delicious), and Lisa merits an added round of applause for nailing ditzy Hermia her first time at bat.

Nicole’s plucky, prankish Puck and her fellow fairies Cobweb (Julia Stier), Mustardseed (understudy Moriah McAda-Salvia), and Peaseblossom (Anna Telfer) express themselves not just in Shakespeare’s words but in chirps and coos like the otherworldly forest creatures they are.

Marshall returns regally for the umpteenth time as Titania opposite Michael McFall’s once again majestic Oberon, with Claire Blackwelder (Hyppolita), Natalie Eleftheriadis (Egeus), and Christopher Wallinger (Theseus) providing solid support and Glenn Gilstrap turning Philostrate into the quirkiest of theatrical oddballs.

And then there are “The Mechanicals,” headed by Jones’s supremely scene-stealing Bottom, who doubles as Pyramus in Midsummer Night’s Dream’s play-within-the-play while insisting with bottomless braggadocio that he could just as easily undertake any and all roles at once.

That’s not to say that Jones’s fellow Mechanicals are any kind of slouches in the laugh-getting department, from Paul Barrois’s Snout (a droll Wall in Pyramus And Thisbe), Bedjou Jean’s Starveling (aided in the laugh department by an unbilled canine cameo player), KiDané Kelati’s Flute (a mop-headed blonde bombshell as Thisbe), Andy Stokan’s Quince (showing off an amusing case of “stage fright”), and Sky Wahl’s Snug (an itty-bitty-voiced Lion with a surprisingly ferocious roar).

Last but not least, a team of summer-long Theatricum Botanicum interns and assorted child actors fill in as Amazons, Lords, and Fairies, with toddler Aarush Mehta’s Changeling Child stealing hearts every time he steps or is carried on stage.

Beth Eslick’s wondrous costumes, Ian Flanders’s sound design and live musical foley effects, Zachary Moore’s bewitching lighting, and Sydney Russell’s fantastical properties are every bit as terrific as Lexi Pearl’s enchanting choreography.

Elizabeth Tobias is assistant director. Karen Osborne is stage manager and Russell is assistant stage manager.

The ideal introduction to the Los Angeles summer-theater treasure that is Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, A Midsummer Night’s Dream once again proves the most magical of midsummer delights.

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The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Through September 2. See website for detailed performance schedule. Reservations: 310 455-3723

–Steven Stanley
August 8, 2019
Photos: Ian Flanders


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