Monday, June 30, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Quick disclaimer: I know the director, who is a friend, and who asked me to design the postcard for this production, which I did. Yet at the time I'd not seen one split second of any performance.

Zombie Joe's Underground Theater Group enjoys a reputation for the grotesque and edgy, but in truth also does such diverse works as A Christmas Carol and Bob Hope's Birthday. They also regularly (as in, at least once a year) put on a Shakespeare or some other classic.

This time director Denise Devin tackles what counts (in my opinion) as the Bard's silliest comedy--A Midsummer Night's Dream. More than any other of Shakespeare's works, this play is all about how ridiculous human beings can be and usually are. Like all his comedies, there's a streak that could lead to tragedy! Hermia (Arielle Davidsohn) and Lysander (Robert Walters) are in love, but her mother would literally rather see her dead. She begs Prince Theseus to heed Athenian law and allow him to execute his daughter for refusing to marry Demetrius (Dorian Serna). The Prince cannot but agree, giving a deadline (one hopes he thinks some time will let things find their own natural solution).

Lysander has a plan! A good one, or at least it sounds good. They will elope by fleeing into the woods to his aunt's house. Of course it won't go as planned. If it did, where is the play??? They get lost! And on top of that they were stupid enough to tell someone--Helena (Nicole DeCroix), whom they know is so desperately in love with Demetrius she's bound to tell him all! Which she does!

Photo Credit: Zombie Joe
More complications follow! Within those very woods (where all four lovers soon get lost) King Oberon (Lamont Webb) and Queen Titania (Ashley Fuller) of the faeries are fighting, with the former willing to go to extreme lengths to get his way. But he's not without compassion. Spying Helena following a scornful Demetrius, Oberon decides the  young lady deserves love. So he orders Robin Goodfellow aka Puck (Katherine Bowman) to use the juice of an enchanted flower to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena.

Naturally it all goes wrong, since Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius!

In the meantime a group of "rude mechanicals" (i.e. very amateur dramatists) decide to put on a play and have a rehearsal in the very same forest! Thus Bottom (Quinn Knox), Flute (David Wyn Harris), Snug (Emily Cunningham) and Quince (Sarah Fairfax) enter into a plot to further complicate matters!

Not going to explain every single plot permutation, but rather note it becomes a wild parade of mistaken identities, people getting lost, over-reacting to pretty much everything--all with a couple of modern pop songs turned into production numbers! Sexual innuendo and sight gags abound. Characters run on and off stage with great energy, their costumes increasingly bedraggled (and revealing). All under a summer moon of cardboard tapped to the black stage wall. How appropriate!

Like the rest of the audience, I laughed out loud again and again. One can make AMND into a slightly heavier or darker piece. Such can work. It can seem a bit nightmarish, or touch upon a sense of wonder. But at its heart the whole thing centers on its most famous quote: "What fools these mortals be!" Yep, we are. Especially when we fall in love. Isn't it grand?

A Midsummer Night's Dream plays Fridays at 8:30pm at ZJU 4850 Lankershim (just north of Camarillo, across from KFC), North Hollywood CA 91601. Tickets are $15. Call 818.202.4120 or visit

No comments: