South Coast Repertory’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Segerstrom Stage veers from the light and whimsical to a mildly dark production.
Puck (Rob Campbell), a mischievous, laid-back fairy, speaks slowly and distinctly as he slinks toward the audience. Campbell appears to be a melancholy servant to King Oberon (Elijah Alexander) instructed to find the magical flower for Oberon to use on Queen Titania (Susannah Schulman). Neither fairy is as exuberant as one might anticipate. Titania (Schulman) is forthright with the fairies, but Oberon (Alexander) and Titania (Schulman) are somewhat awkward in their dance and kiss.
A forest inspired by set designer Cameron Anderson allows the fairies to climb on the wall with a painted façade of the rings of a tree for a door. The façade opens for fairies commanding entrances and exits, delighting the audience. Through the entrance Titania’s whimsical bed is a small boat that suspends from above. A paper collage tree hovers over the stage constructed of white squares of paper that comes and goes with the sound of chimes.
Costume designer Nephelie Andonyadis creates dynamic entrances particularly for Titania as she enters with arms spread for all to adore her. Her dress wows the audience as they “Aaaah”. Titania’s coppery-pink floor-length shag skirt opens in the front with sea foam green tulle peeking out to reveal a mini-skirt of pink tulle. A band of glittery copper on the waist and beaded bustier shimmer in the light of dripping light bulbs created by light designer Lap Chi Chu. More tulle hangs from her wrists and jewels adorn her neck. Oberon’s jacket is also revealing in the front which extends in the air circling his hips to the back. The material is stiff and resembles a beetle. Though the costumes are dynamic they are not always figure flattering, but that does not matter since everyone is down to his or her undergarments by the last act.
Demetrius (Tobie Windham) takes off one of Helena’s red gloves and kisses her hand, as though he never knew he found her previously appalling. Lysander (Nick Gabriel) does the same with the other hand as to not be out matched. Helena (Dana Green) could easily be nettlesome as she chases Demetrius, a non-reciprocating lover. Instead Green is smart and funny with phrasing that allows the words to sound like today’s language as she says “It is not friendly.” Helena and Hermia (Kathleen Early) play up their height differences as Green towers over Early. Early is a sweet Hermia, unaware of her surroundings. Unbeknownst, the fairies have taken off Helena and Hermia’s clothes. Hermia (Early) nonchalantly walks and speaks as two fairies hold her dress over her head. In the heat of the argument Helena (Green) responds, “Have you no modesty?” as she stands in lingerie. All the while King Oberon (Elijah Alexander) and Puck (Rob Campbell) sit watching their doings while the rest of the fairies sit on the ledges of the wall.
Director Mark Rucker incorporates dance by choreographer Ken Roht that is modern and jazz influenced. The fairies sing and dance a lullaby that lulls Titania to sleep in her suspended bed. Roht and John Ballinger’s collaborative pre-recorded music has a jazzy feel that allows for some free-style moves by the fairies. Jaycob Hunter (a fairy) dances with strength as he stands out among the group fairy dances.
The direction explores the negative words of the royals, allowing clumsy and awkward, but not over-the-top funny workers. Adding a few dark fairies along with the clever, mischievous ones keeps the worlds at odds with each other, causing a sober Midsummer. Where there is comedy there is underlying raw truth.