This is the Midsummer Night Shakespeare dreamed as he fell asleep while scratching out new magic ideas with his pen.
Everyone in the jammed lobby of the Actors' Gang theatre seemed prepped up to play. Then, like an overture from inside the theatre, came a rabble of voices, songs, shouts, raucous big '60s party sounds. We took our seats before an empty quiet stage.
Then, as indeed, Shakespeare had dreamed, this fairy land of earthy passions emerges. A folly of a forest, filled with dancers and spirits, swinging from branches in a tumble of energy of scampering and spells. Puppets jig on the hands of woodland characters (clues to who they shall become). Here we are, surrounded by these original, madcap, and completely engaging characters. There is no arch pretension, not a moment when you feel you are not in the middle of this woodland, reaching for one of the vines, wafting around the players, spinning to at least one of the maypole dances spellbinding as this play.
Demetrius (played by Adam Jefferis) is astonishing, a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Baryshnikov. Wanted to take him home, as one does the more curvy Lysander (Will McFadden). Suddenly, here's Helena and Hermia (Molly O'Neill and Lee Hanson), driving their men to distraction, battering at each other, fresh as tomorrow, right off the screen from Girls. "You cankerblossom!" Hermia shouts. Helena's at her, "You counterfeit, you puppet you!" Then Hermia, straddling Lysander, shouts, "Thou painted maypole!" "You dwarf!" roars Helena, as we see Hermia dangling, hung up in vines, glossy lengths of storms and lightning rods held by magicians, dreamy banners swirling. And the night becomes as magic as it must have seemed all those centuries ago, as it must have been to its artist on that balmy night.
And then there's Puck. Transforms himself into a trio. There's one you'll love the most (Cihan Sahin), with his wacky horns, beady mobile eyes, and furry hair. His tummy clearly stuffed with Persian Saffron & Rose ice cream. And never has the randy sophistication of mature raunch been better portrayed than by Pierre Adeli and Sabra Williams (Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania). I love watching Titania as she's danced asleep and rests her head on a grouchy fairy's knees. You'll pick out your favored dancers, their astonishing individual moves and styles. I could not take my eyes off Mary Eileen O'Donnell, the wise sorceress, the mentor all of us wish to have to soothe us into order, when dreams threaten to become nightmares.
After the intermission, it's enchanting to watch the cast reassemble, like kids around lockers, putting all their wands, their flowers and branches, together. One moment you're in Shakespeare's own time. (I've seen no more authentic production.)
The music, composed and performed by Mr. Robbins' brother David, and his mates, makes of this a show filled with robust ribald rhythm. As it was in the old twentieth century, when you'd go, say to Oklahoma, and want to get up and dance in the aisles, so it is here.
And a word as to costumes, accumulations of vintage sophistry, whence from that time and from the basket in one's Echo Park cottage. A jovial evening has never been so well spent.
"Reason and love keep little company together nowadays," Bottom says with his donkey's eyes wide. To be sure, it was always thus.
The director, Tim Robbins, taller even than Demetrius, did not do any tumbling, but is surely a magician, and I've never seen a happier smile on any host. It was the smile of an artist who feels the glow of a splendid work. No greater pleasure.