Quirky, yet creative director Rey Carolino enlists a full cast in this just over two-hour production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at San Francisco’s Phoenix Theatre, and like the bird, this play rides the mythological roller coaster of crash and burn/rise from the flames from beginning to end. I do have faith, however, that the ups and downs will teeter to a more steadily burning flame after a few previews, and a few deep breaths on the actors’ parts.
The play’s fairy-cross’d lovers, Christina L. Flynn and Sung Min Park (Hermia and Lysander), along with Livia Demarchi and slightly less so Michael Dorado (Helena and Demetrius) are this play’s breaths of fresh and vibrant air. Flynn and Park express obvious chemistry upon the stage, and Flynn and Demarchi conduct their battles in an acrobatic, WWF sort of fashion adorned with wit.
Our rude mechanicals are an interesting bunch, headed by the frail yet funny Stephen Randolph as Nick Bottom. Randolph is accompanied by a group of drunkards who mock rather than revere their Pyramus in a surprising turn of events. Their play within the play is a comedic joy to watch, and I was left amazed by Bottom's top of the line ass head, labored over for months by none other than Randolph, and the papier mache lion’s costume, created by Scott Ludwig.
A seductive circle of fairies saunter across the stage in a Pussycat Dolls, girl band sort of way, teasing a sometimes too whiny, sometimes sweetly intoxicating Puck (Luis Garza). Our curvaceous fairy dolls even sing a harmonious lullaby to their Fairy Queen. Titania, played by the (I believe) Russian Yelena Segal, is sometimes difficult to understand, although my ears adjusted to her accent before the play was over. Speech is the troupe’s biggest impediment. Even as lovely as it is to watch the darkly lined, deep eyes of this play's Oberon, his strong presence is only felt in his silence. Ludwig, as well as the majority of the actors in this production, speak their lines by rote, sadly much in the way our mechanicals are criticized (with the exclusion of our Hermia and Helena, Lysander and Snug the Joiner (granted Delara Suann’s part is small, her words are well-spoken). These fellows “doth not stand upon points.” They know not the stop. With the stop, the ever-debated comma or colon, comes meaning, and that meaning is lost in throes of memorization – memorization that lacks meaning. Shakespeare is meaning. Without the meaning – without the understanding – there is but airy nothing.
Opening preview jitters, perhaps. I’d place a small wager on it. Carolino’s actors have but a short time to understand, but with that comprehension, I have no doubt they will apprehend their audience.