By JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
Thunder only happens when it's raining.
- Fleetwood Mac
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People either love or hate A Midsummer Night's Dream. I tend to fall on the hate side of the ledger - all those fairies and moonbeams in the Athenian woodland can get to be a bit much. So it's saying something that I thoroughly enjoyed Shakespeare's comedy Sunday afternoon at freeFall Theatre.
Part of the reason for my pleasure was the fanciful atmosphere created by director Eric Davis and his designers, with dreamy preshow music by the likes of Mama Cass and Fleetwood Mac, a dozen mounted white stag heads sporting leafy antlers and a magical box of bubbling water.
With the audience seated on all four sides of the stage, close enough to the actors to see their spit (always a good sign) as they speak the speech, this is a wonderfully intimate Dream.
I confess to being a less than diligent Shakespearean at times, as the poetic verse drifts in and out of focus, which I don't think is such a bad thing. You can't really absorb all the imagery in a single performance, but what is important is that the words be clearly heard when you are paying attention. And the fresh, vivid acting here serves the language well.
Oberon, looking like a Wagnerian tenor in his rustic getup, is a commanding king of the forest fairies in a splendidly grounded performance by Gene D'Alessandro. As Oberon's queen, Titania, Roxanne Fay has the prim manner of a Girl Scout troop leader (in a fantastic costume) as she tries to control the anarchy of the fairies. Fay changes gears to don a black wig and filmy shift or plaid hunting garb to play Hippolyta, the lusty bride of Theseus, played by D'Alessandro as a playboy bearing tropical drinks, though he is also a figure of nobility. Shakespeare's intent with the Theseus-Hippolyta story gets muddled in the effort to make them cool.
As for Puck, forget about boyish portrayals of Oberon's trickster aide (i.e., Mickey Rooney in the 1935 movie). Giles Davies is spellbinding (literally) as a subversive force in the woods, exuding a carnal energy and athleticism that is emphasized by his scanty outfit of patchwork leggings. Mike and Kathy Buck did the imaginative costume design.
The story of the four lovers, with all the mixups caused by various magic spells, can grow tiresome, but youthful slapstick carries the day in Davis' production, which benefits from brisk pacing. Tavis Doucette's Lysander is a lively romantic presence and the contrast between beanpole Helena (Jennifer Christa Palmer) and dwarfish Hermia (played as a petulant teeny-bopper by Jackie Rivera) is fun.
The mechanicals, six amateur thespians who perform Pyramus and Thisby at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, are led by Peter Quince (the excellent John Lombardi). He must put up with the incomparable Bottom, brilliantly performed by Matthew McGee as the hammy leading man and patron saint of community theater. Though he sometimes overdoes the shtick, McGee has such great stage charm that you'll watch anything he does. His finger-snapping scat rendition of Bottom's song on being transformed into an ass comes as a delightful twist on the Bard.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.
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IF YOU GO
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Shakespeare comedy continues through May 29 at freeFall Theatre, St. Petersburg. Run time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, including intermission. 2 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. $32-$47. Students, seniors and military get $3 discount. (727) 498-5205; freefalltheatre.com.