Marin Shakespeare Company performed Shakespeare’s delightful comedy Midsummer Night’s Dream this past Sunday. The show is the third and last of their summer festival in what is now their 30th year of producing and performing plays, the majority of which were written by Will Shakespeare.
The company is at a turning point made possible by an anonymous donor who offered $2,000,000 as the lead gift in a capital campaign in 2015. Since then the company, under the continuing direction of Artistic Director Robert Currier and Managing Director Lesley Schisgall Currier, has bought a building in San Rafael specifically for arts, education and social justice. Along with the gift came the caveat to update the venue that the company has used for decades, Forest Meadows Amphitheater, on the campus of Dominican University of California in San Rafael.
It is the perfect venue for Dream, which takes place in a magical forest outside Athens in classical Greece, though Shakespeare had no trouble melding the world of the mythic hero Theseus with that of his own Elizabethan England. And directors ever since have put this imaginary setting into different times and places. Marin Shakes’ version is set somewhere filled with sun and savannah. Terra cotta, chocolate and gold colors dominate the set, and a deep cobalt to ultramarine sky lies painted above the sand-colored flats.
The play’s magical woods are filled with fairies and elemental spirits that enjoy larking about with humans and causing even more trouble for them than they would otherwise muddle into by themselves. Over this world rules Queen Titania – the statuesque Kathryn Smith-McGlynn in an olive-colored gown with gold armlets snaking around her upper arms – and King Oberon, played by Dameion Brown kitted out in West African robes.
Brown is one of the company’s Artists-in-Residence, and works with the Curriers in their Shakespeare in Prisons program. He and Schisgall Currier developed the artistic concept for the production while working with at-risk youth in Stockton. The company itself is the largest provider of Shakespeare in Prison programs in the world. One of their participants, Az Ford, noted about the program, “My small parts in the wonderful productions put on by your company have stripped away the anger and hate I had armored myself in … I may not be a great actor but … I have become a better man.”
There are plenty of good actors in Dream. While Titania has her elementals as followers and attendants – Cobweb (Micaela Davis), Moth (Eliza Boivin, who also plays Theseus wife-to-be, the Amazon Queen Hippolyta), Mustardseed (Kaylamay Suarez Paz, who also plays one of the mechanicals) and Peaseblossom (Oluchi Nwokocha) – Oberon has the enduring and endearing bad-boy sprite, Puck (Jeremy Marquis).
Titania and Oberon are having a spat over a changeling child that each wants to add to their retinue. Oberon and Puck plot to revenge themselves on the defiant queen and to win the spat. In the course of the night their schemes will entangle four noble youths who have lost their way in the wood in a desperate attempt to escape the harsh Athenian marriage laws and at least one rather dim rustic.
Although the fairies are central to the play’s action and atmosphere there are two sets of mortals in the play. Two pairs of lovers – Hermia and Lysander and Helena and Demetrius – and the mechanicals, six rustic tradesmen who are trying to stage a version of Pyramus and Thisbe for the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta.
These sets of players fall into the high comedy and low comedy roles that are always ascribed to Shakespeare’s work. And here is where the production differs from most. For the lovers are most often portrayed as aristocratically genteel despite their silliness. But Marin’s lovers are expressive both verbally and physically. Jamella Cross as Hermia flings herself at her lover Lysander (Terrance Smith) and she has an unerring sense of physical comedy. Santoya Fields is more restrained in her portrayal of Helena but thrills and waggles as expressively as the teenager-in-love she is meant to portray. Both Smith and Marquis D. Gibson as Demetrius, besides being blessed with wonderfully clear voices, are equally likely to fling and stalk and snuggle up to their would-be mates. Slapstick is not far from these actors’ moves.
Nor is it from the actors who play the Moon (Kaylamay Paz Suarez), Wall (William Oliver), Lion (Philip Percy Williams), Thisbe (Khari Haynes) and Pyramus (Jourdan Olivier-Verde) under the unerring direction of the rustic playwright Quince (Lijesh Krishnan). Olivier-Verde is blessed with the swaggering role of Bottom transformed into an Ass by the knavish Puck.
At play’s end all is untangled and every Jill will have her Jack. Meanwhile the audience will have had a splendidly entertaining evening.
– Jaime Robles
Marin Shakespeare Company’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through September 29. For information and tickets, visit marinshakespeare.org.