The Shakespearean stars are aligned in the bay area. A pair of comedies by the Bard are being performed in three productions this weekend: a ballet and theatrical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream along with a staging of Twelfth Night.
In the round
Eric Davis has assembled a cast of 13 for freeFall Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Roxanne Fay, Steve Garland, Bonnie Agan, Matt McGee, Chris Rutherford, Dawn Truax and Giles Davies are among the actors who will be performing in the round.
"Circles are very significant in magic, and having the audience in a circle surrounding the stage is a very effective way to do this piece,'' Davis said. "Our production takes place in a magical dream forest. It's the furthest thing from literal as could be."
The freeFall artistic director is on a roll. A Midsummer Night's Dream is Davis' third major production without a break, starting with his company's staging of the Strindberg classicMiss Julie, and then the American Stage in the Park production of Rent. Fresh from the Jonathan Larson musical, which drew robust crowds to the park, he finds a parallel between Shakespeare and musical theater. He suggests that audiences approach Shakespearean verse like a musical score.
"A lot of audiences think they have failed if they don't hear and understand absolutely every word in Shakespeare," he said. "But it's so much about letting the language wash over you, much like a song lyric would. With good acting and interpretation, you will understand what's happening. But expecting to take away every single word that is said in something as dense and poetic as a Shakespeare play is too much to expect from yourself."
Of course, the ballet version of A Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't have any of Shakespeare's words, just dance and the incidental music Mendelssohn composed for a theatrical production of the play, including the famous Wedding March.
Many choreographers have set Shakespeare's comedy to the Mendelssohn score, most notably George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton. Next Generation Ballet, a youth company run by the Patel Conservatory, is performing a version by Richard Cook. Principal roles will be danced by Daniel Cooke (Oberon), Hannah Beach (Titania) and Nieser Zambrana (Puck).
"The ballet flows. Fairies and mortals come in and out of the magical forest, and all the stories merge at the end," director Peter Stark said. "I think you get the main elements of what Shakespeare was conveying in a very lush and beautiful way."
The plot of Twelfth Night turns on one of Shakespeare's favorite gambits: mistaken identity involving twins. Dahlia Legault is Viola, who disguises herself as a man named "Cesario," only to be confused with her lost twin brother, Sebastian (Stephen Fisher), under the expert direction of Julia Flood for Eckerd Theater Company.
"If music be the food of love, play on" is the opening line of the play, and this production has some swashbuckling original music by movie and TV composer Jay Flood (the director's brother) and a deft performance of songs by Steve Smith, playing the witty fool Feste. Standouts in the cast include Brian Shea as the insanely puritanical Malvolio, Jack Holloway making like a poor man's Falstaff as Sir Toby Belch and Melody Craven, who hilariously transforms Fabian into a lusty wench.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.
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IF YOU GO
Brush up your Shakespeare
- Twelfth Night, staged by the Eckerd Theater Company, has performances at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Murray Studio Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $10, $18. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.
- A Midsummer Night's Dream opens Friday and runs through May 29 at freeFall Theatre, St. Petersburg. 2 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. $32-$47. Preview tonight for $20. Students, seniors and military get $3 discount except for preview. (727) 498-5205; freefalltheatre.com.
- Next Generation Ballet performs A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard Cook's setting to a Mendelssohn score, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Ferguson Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. $15. (813) 229-7827; strazcenter.org.