Hovering hazily between earth and imagination, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may lend itself to more interpretive variety than any other Shakespeare work. It’s been played as a modern-day midnight rave before, but perhaps never as aggressively as in Mark Rucker’s campily eclectic extravaganza at South Coast Rep. Rucker crosses that fine line between directorial ingenuity and excess pretty often, but the production will awe those untroubled by its nervousness about language and absolute terror of genuine emotion.
Sets and costumes inspired by “Mad Men” are starting to become as predictable as Betty White TV appearances, yet here they are again, introducing the insipidity of the Athenian court and our four fretful, mismatched young lovers: perky Hermia (Kathleen Early), out-Glinda-ing Glinda in “Wicked”; preening dolt Demetrius (Tobie Windham); and bespectacled, nerdy Lysander (Nick Gabriel) and Helena (Dana Green).
You know you’re in for a less than involving evening when the lovers’ scenes are played with more shtick than the epilogue’s “Pyramus and Thisbe” lampoon, sincerity be damned even when the text would seem to demand it. Rucker obviously pulls their marionette strings: The woodland fairies impersonate tree branches to strip visitors of their duds, but the kids never acknowledge it’s happening, so it’s just a stunt for our benefit.
About those fairies. With a magical bower clearly located somewhere between Melrose Ave. thrift shops and the WeHo Pleasure Chest, these merrie sprites sport Nephelie Andonyadis’ getups outlandish enough to make the late Howard Crabtree (of “Whoop-De-Do” fame) blanch.
Titania (Susannah Schulman) is Lady Gaga to Oberon’s (Elijah Alexander) Lou Ferrigno, while Puck (Rob Campbell) sports one high heel and one boot as a louche clone of Johnny Depp with a Willem Dafoe sneer. All vogue and sashay through choreographer Ken Roht’s sinuously cheesy patterns like Stratford Night at Andy Warhol’s Factory, but what the heck, it’s all just spectacle.
And spectacle there is in Cameron Anderson’s green climbing wall available for sportive tricks, and a handsome flying boat chartered for Titania’s seduction of bewitched Bottom (Patrick Kerr, taking a cue of insincere address from the other Athenian scenes). The rude mechanicals’ expensive, bottle-decorated pageant-wagon in the vein of “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” is left behind when they perform at court. Oh sure.
Barely a line is said in earnest in the course of 140 minutes, though Michael Manuel’s Francis Flute stands out with a remarkably unfussy take on Thisbe. Neither irritated to play a woman nor bewitched by drag, he doesn’t even put on a phony falsetto. Flute just does his best to cope with his heels and gown, and express his character honestly. How was this performance allowed in?