Shakespeare's ethereal play and the bucolically splendid Topanga Canyon-based Botanicum are a perfect pairing of theme and setting, with director Melora Marshall utilizing every square inch of a large open stage area and the surrounding hills and forest.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” gives ample evidence that, since its inception in 1973, Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum has become one of this country’s leading outdoor legit venues. Shakespeare’s ethereal play and the bucolically splendid Topanga Canyon-based Botanicum are a perfect pairing of theme and setting, with director Melora Marshall utilizing every square inch of a large open stage area and the surrounding hills and forest.
Marshall ably guides a thoroughly committed 37-member ensemble through the intricacies of the Bard’s interweaving plotlines. Amidst scampering fairies, these earthy Athenians get entwined by the shenanigans set in motion by dueling forest rulers Oberon (Michael McFall) and Titania (Abby Craden), abetted by their mischievous servant Puck (Elizabeth Tobias).
The opening scene erupts into a celebratory feast of sight and sound as Theseus (Aaron Hendry), the duke of Athens, prepares to wed Hippolyta (Lexi Pearl), queen of the Amazons. There is an aura of controlled chaos as bodies flail about the premises, often disappearing behind a tree or a rock only to magically emerge in a completely different area.
Despite the vast panorama of her staging, Marshall instills intimacy and veracity into the three main storylines. The romantic jousting among petite and perky Hermia (Samara Frame), her lovesick friend Helena (Willow Geer), and their suitors Demetrius (Chris Jones) and Lysander (Jason Greenfield), are played out in healthy bouts of hormonal urges and callow insecurities. Geer proves comically adept as Helena reacts to potion-addled Lysander as just another jerk with a bad come-on line.
The clowns of the show, the Rustics, including Snug (Joe Lorenzo), Flute (Dylan Vigus), Snout (James Jaboro) and Starveling (David Stifel), pull off their duties with boisterous aplomb, led by Earnestine Phillips’ hyper-pompous Peter Quince. But their hilariously inept efforts to put on a play for the royalty are dominated by Thad Geer’s scenery-devouring Bottom who pugnaciously grabs the spotlight every time he appears.
McFall’s Oberon and Craden’s Titania are properly haughty as they imperiously order their minions about. Craden offers a highly sensual transformation when Titania, under Oberon’s spell and Puck’s impish prank, becomes lustfully infatuated with bewitched Bottom, despite his sporting the head of an ass.
The fluid production designs of Greg Hilfman (sets), Cynthia Herteg (costumes), Ian Garrett (lighting), Ian Flanders (sound) and Lexi Pearl (choreography) ably abet the free-flowing energy of Marshall’s staging.