Theatricum Botanicum Opens with a Joyful ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’    

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Melora Marshall and Aaruth Mehta (changling child) with (left to right) Alexandra Kunin, Jordan Tyler Kessler, Grace Hawthorn and Leesa Kim.
Photo: Ian Flanders

 

LIBBY MOTIKA

Circling the News Contributor

Opening the 2021 summer season with “Midsummer Night’s Dream” after the pandemic-driven dormancy, the Theatricum Botanicum couldn’t have chosen a better play to confirm the joy and magic of theater.

From its founding in 1948, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum has considered Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy to be fixed in the summer repertory.

The outdoor stage, set within the oak canopy and rustic landscape in Topanga Canyon, seamlessly transforms the magic and wild abandon of the play’s forest mystery.

How appropriate, too, to perform “Midsummer” at midsummer, the notion of a turning point with the beginning of summer and the beginning of shorter days. Midsummer was associated with the magic and the spirits that would be in the air during that night.

It’s not easy to talk about all the themes and influences in this play, all of which are very human characteristics: Power, jealousy, passion, and ultimately harmony are all kin to the lofty, the lowly and the ethereal; Theseus and Hippolyta, the common folk and the fairies.

The play commences with the anticipated marriage of King Theseus and his betrothed Hippolyta, the Amazon queen.

Conflict ensues in short order when Egeus demands under pain of exile or death that his headstrong daughter Hermia marry a man, Demetrius, she does not love. Her love is for Lysander.

But, it’s the marital quarrel between the king and queen of the fairies that is the engine that drives the mix-ups and confusion of the other characters in the play.

Titania (Melora Marshall) is a very proud creature and as much of a force to contend with as is her husband, Oberon (Lisa Wolpe). She and Oberon are engaged in a battle over which of them should have the keeping of an Indian changeling boy.

As the action takes place in the forest, in the realm of the fairy kingdom, we see the majesty and power in this world that these spirits use to ultimately bring order and harmony to the mortals’ chaos.

Two sets of lovers, Helena and Demetrius, Lysander and Hermia, find themselves in their breathless pursuit of love frantically confused by Puck, Oberon’s messenger, who misapplies the wildflower elixir intended to direct love in the right direction.

Yes, love is the theme that carries the plot to its harmonious conclusion.

The Theatricum production has added music to the play that contributes to the magical feel and reinforces the importance of the fairies within the world of the play.

And, what would “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” be without humor and laugh-out-loud jollity?

Bottom’s turn as Pyramus gives the actor Thad Geer immense license to carry on. The tradesmen’s “most lamentable comedy, tedious but brief” does its work, capping the complete pleasure of being in an audience, watching an audience, watching an actor so clearly enjoying acting.

This production deftly interweaves several plots, resulting in an organic unity enlivened by the incomparable cast.

“Midsummer” continues in repertory through November 7 at the Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd. Contacts: Call 310–455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com.

Lisa Wolpe (left) and Melora Marshall in a scene from “Midsummer’s Night Dream.”
Photo: Ian Flanders

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