Ready for a throwback to the American 80s? Then let Impact Theatre take you back to the era of great music, bad hair, and one heck of a lot of fun in their current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, showing in the basement of La Val’s Subterranean Pizza in Berkeley. Packed with all the clicks and clubs we 80’s kids remember so well, this show will leave you singing out the door and for days to come.
Set in an 80s nightclub, the gothic Queen of the fairies (Sarah Coykendall) “keeps” her changeling boy to the dismay of her pop/punk King Oberon (Tim Redmond), who really wants this boy toy for his own. Enter the lamentable Helena (Marissa Keltie), poor dear wearing an acid washed jacket, fanny pack, and French braid, hot on the heels of the Wall Street-bound Demetrius (Seth Thygesen), whose cell phone is bigger than his already inflated head. Demetrius follows the early-Madonna-inspired Hermia (Miyuki Bierlein) and her glampunk betrothed, Lysander (Nick Jackson), into the wood. Puck (Pete Caslavka), who’s already known as a bit of a punk, is a sexy little pistol, committing anarchy all over the place, including on the head of Bottom (Casi Maggio), as the rest of “her” not so cool but oh so awesome posse of nerds prepare their version of a play to perform for the Duke and Duchess on their wedding day at night. Theseus (Jordan Winer) would rather skip the festivities and lead his Dynasty coiffed arm candy to bed, while Sarah Thomas’ real life Amazonian qualities permit her Hippolyta to handle all the shots she throws back during the show.
This show is fast and furious, aside from the stoned out Starveling (Maria Giere) who spends the play munching Funyuns and casting Moonshine as a burned out afterthought. Each character in director Melissa Hillman’s production hearkens back to some 80’s icon. Quince conjures up Ghostbusters; Snout reads a vintage copy of Dynamite! magazine (perhaps the March 1985 Ralph Macchio edition?) dressed as the Karate Kid and falling prey to some uncomfortably hysterical racial slurs in his rendition of “Wall.” Revenge of the Nerds Michael Delaney (Snug) and Brian Turner (Flute) steal many a scene with their extemporaneous asides and self-satisfied high fives, as well as their ability to casually pick up on every sexual pun in this play.
Speaking of extemporaneous speech, this production may surprise the purists out there. Those of us who shy away from interpretations that impose additions not native to Shakespeare’s tongue are in for a rude awakening, because Hillman’s allowances actually work and work well, partly because this troupe speaks the speech trippingly on the tongue, as if Hamlet, himself, was there to coach them along. Some of these asides may not be suitable for children under thirteen, but they are well-received by the rest of the age ranges, including the retired community of the Rossmoor Shakespeare Society, who agreed 14-2 that this is a most favorable Dream. Adding even more fun to an already festive affair, this retired community of Shakespeare-lovers wasn’t too shy to stand up and groove to Kajagoogoo during intermission.
Those sitting in the front row of this basement theatre will fall prey to poor Helena’s needy flirtations, and will come dangerously close to being kicked in the head as Puck busts through the fourth wall. This up close and personal attention also offers great seats for Hermia and Helena’s dance off, taking us back to the days of the Robot, Running Man, Cabbage Patch, and Snake.
This production is missing a crucial element, aside from the unremarkable set design—80s hair. Yes, the French braid works on Keltie, but it seems she and the rest of the female cast couldn’t commit to the horrible spectacle of the Aqua Net-inspired exploding bangs. I also can't help but think the Mechanicals should have staged a concert rather than theatrical rendition of Ovid's tragedy, considering the wedding parties convened in a dance club. Other distractions that sometimes, well, distract, are the pool players in the pizza joint up above and the occasional wind of mold in this underground theatre, but oddly, that’s part of La Val’s charm. Besides, you can always drown out the pool game in a beer, and trade up the mold for a slice. With these options, alongside some really fun theatre, you’re sure to come out ahead (high five from Snug and Flute for that one!).
So if you’re “Hungry Like the Wolf “for a little “Anarchy” at the theatre, don’t be “Too Shy.” Grab a slice upstairs, “Relax” with a beer, and join this “Culture Club” for an iconic 80s Dream of a show.