Maybe it's because all the summer Shakespeare festivals are kicking in around the country, but about every fourth e-mail I get these days talks about Elizabethan-era stagecraft and, specifically, how not to costume Bill's plays. Like me, about a third of the peeps say that placing Shakespeare in a specific time (garb being the most apparent element in that foolhardy ploy) defeats the playwright's purpose amid his very un-period themes. One guy in Seattle says I'm full of sauerkraut on the subject. He's right, but that's only because I love sauerkraut. Beyond that, I steadfastly hold my ground, and I hope the little booger slips and falls on a big fat poop someday.
The costumes aren't the only reason for sending you to A Midsummer Night's Dream, first of The Old Globe Theatre's three Shakespeare installments this season. But they're certainly a big one, in two respects. Designer Paloma Young's great, period-specific touches illustrate characters rather than define eras. That leaves director Darko Tresnjak to do what he does best-drive the suggestions home through those copious stage pictures of his. You'll notice, though, that Tresnjak's as much a geometrician as a director. He's got a serious thing for symmetry, one that bestows those portraits with lives of their own-lives better spent advancing the story rather than adorning it.
Tresnjak exploits the play's fairytale nature like the respected storyteller he is. He has three plots to work with, centered on the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens (J. Paul Boehmer), and Hyppolita, Queen of Amazons (Lise Bruneau). A four-party lovers' spat in an enchanted forest; a fairy queen's infatuation with a common weaver whose head has been transformed into a donkey's; a terrible play mounted by a bunch of "rude mechanicals" as a catalyst for everybody's reconciliation-it's all there for Tresnjak's taking, and his visual prowess goes down easy amid the fanciful forces at work. His Oberon (Boehmer) and Titania (Bruneau), the fairy king and queen, are lusty and youthful, and his stage-struck weaver Nick Bottom (Jonathan Peck) makes a gangly prop amid his outrageous donkey's head.
But as fun as it all is, it vaguely panders to our dumber selves. Even incidental things like the lovers' sleep are over-precise in their mounting, with Hermia (Eve Danzeisen), Helena (Julie Jesneck), Demetrius (David Villlalobos) and Lysander (Owiso Odera) occupying the stage like so many inextricable nails in the floorboards. Tresnjak opts for poses so often that you wonder if he's doing it as a plot device. The hell of it is that he's not-and that's what's so irksome about it sometimes. The candy's already delicious, especially since Shakespeare's the main confectioner. Too much, and you're at risk.
Mind you, there's a lot to like here. At his core, Theseus is a flaming twit, and Boehmer's voice carries just enough affectation to confirm our suspicions about that. Puck is Oberon's second-in-command, and, accordingly, Michael Drummond makes a pretty good climber type. (Drummond's casting, though, is a tad suspect. With all due respect to his performance, he's only a little kid, and his appearance almost reads as a gimmick.) And, man, have a ball eating up Oberon's and Titania's capes. They billow menacingly in one scene; under York Kennedy's lights, they look like angry seas set to pounce at a fairy leader's whim. It's vintage Midsummer-and while this entry physically overindulges, it's captured the author's sentiment on the power of nature and that inescapable part of us that fuels it.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of July 5. A Midsummer Night's Dream runs through Sept. 29 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $19-$59. 619-23-GLOBE.
Don't blame Jen
Fall, the final entry in MOXIE Theatre's first full season, probably wishes it were a movie. Its disparate scenes and effects (day and night beachscapes, ballrooms, facial close-ups) require lots of different physical backdrops, and the cinema is better equipped to handle this particular collective. Besides, playwright Bridget Carpenter unwittingly wrote the play like a film synopsis. She neglects her subtext(s) until it's almost too late, and she never really expounds on why swing dancing became such a passion for Jill (Liv Kellgren), Dog (Craig Huisenga) and their 14-year-old daughter Lydia (Nicole Monet)-if we don't know that, how are we supposed to justify the nuances behind the family drama?
But none of this is the fault of director Jennifer Eve Thorn. Lydia, once too cool for school, is genuinely disarmed by a bunch of old farts at ease with themselves, and Thorn has nicely exploited that crucial quality. This is a watchable, if not acutely satisfying, closer for a group that intends to be around a long, long time. Thorn, Kellgren, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and Jo Anne Glover have the marketing thing totally down, and their persistence is a force of nature.
Fall runs through July 16 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $25. 760-634-3965.
Write to marty[at]edarts[dot]info and editor[at]SDcitybeat[dot]com.