As one walks into The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum space, one cannot help but think it perfectly suited for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The building itself nestled in the Topanga Canyon valley, the natural canopy of an early evening sky spotted with stars and the backdrop of an aesthetically pleasing forest all make for a lovely, if not poetic environment. Yet, in spite of the incredibly appropriate surroundings, this late-summer Midsummer falls predictably flat.
Melora Marshall’s vision of the show is fairly straight-forward. There are no heavy visual concepts imposed on the story or characters. There is no auteuring of the Bard’s words. All the basic elements of the show are intact. Unfortunately, "intact" is where they remain. The staging is adequate, but provides little to illuminate any particular moment or aspect of the text. The most unfortunate facet of the staging is the use of the wonderful depth of the space. So many times the opportunity arises to make use of the beautiful forest in the background for something other than entrances, but entrances and exits are the only stroke that paints the canyon’s canvas. Lexi Pearl’s movement choreography is the most interesting visual element, but in the end feels slightly amateur—mostly due to the inconsistency in execution by the participating members of the cast. The “magic” of Midsummer is shared through the movement and live sound effects (which are fairly successful), but with little payoff as a whole. The costumes created by Christopher Scott Murillo and Lexi Pearl are uninspired and, in combination with the vanilla lighting design (Michael Mahlum), lacks palate or punch. Overall, the surreal journey of the lovers plays literal and fairly bland throughout.
The performances match the design with surprising consistency. The lovers are believable and little else, with the most engaging performance being that of Willow Geer as Helena. Meredith M. Sweeney lacks the fire as Hermia to counter the fluid Helena, but still gives a strong and consistent performance. Elizabeth Tobias takes the most risks as Puck, executing a fascinating physical and vocal characterization. Tobias seems a tad over-directed, but shows clear presence and control as the androgynous sprite. Titania and Oberon fill the space with presence and voice, but fail to make a mark on the memory with anything unique or remarkable. Abby Craden (Titania) is also consistent, but at times seems lost in the language. Michael McFall as Oberon, on the other hand, commands the language, but feels forced and lacks levels. However, the most disappointing performance is that of Thad Geer as Bottom. With the incredibly ample humor present in each of the “rude mechanical” scenes, Geer plays for laughs and lacks all nuance and subtlety with the language, missing many wonderful puns and pranks with his fellow players. The rest of the cast moves throughout the story with relative ease, but very little stands out by the time the curtain of night falls down on the evening’s performance.
If you’re looking for an evening of outdoor Shakespeare that is clear and light, the Theatricum Botanicum will serve. If you are looking for some “bang for your buck,” then it’s possible this particular Midsummer may leave you napping. And though fun and energy keep the production afloat, this Dream may end up being only slightly more interesting than reality.