Over here at SFR, once we wrapped our Best of Santa Fe issue and party and became human again, it was time to dive back into the scene. Making up for lost time (I missed so many shows!), I finally got down to Monte del Sol Charter School to see the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society's presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which runs through Aug. 5.
If you think you're seeing double, you are. Shakespeare in the Garden over at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden also presents Midsummer this season starting Aug. 17. As much as I'd like to pit these two productions against each other in a cage match, they don't overlap, so we'll do one at a time.
True confession time: I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare. (I know, I know. Bad theater kid, even worse theater critic and so on.) I've read plenty, I've seen a decent amount, and I just can't get into it. Part of this, I'll allow, is probably due to the precious nature in which it's treated (the same goes for opera, which I unabashedly love). Some Shakespeare fans just can't get over themselves.
But, personally speaking, I've gotten far more out of Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams than I ever have out of Shakespeare. In performance, I'm not too proud to admit that I get lost. I am not attuned to Early Modern English. I need to really study it to get anything out of it, and by nature of live-action performance, audiences don't have the virtue of time.
All of that was a very long lead-up to saying how enjoyable this Midsummer was, owed entirely to the interpretive actors assembled by Santa Fe Shakespeare Society founder and production director Jerry Ferraccio. It's been said in local theater circles that you haven't really seen Shakespeare performed in Santa Fe "until you've seen Jerry do it." While I was ready to revert back to the old "I don't get Shakespeare" excuse, this charming show had no need for excuses.
The standout turn is from David McConnell as Bottom. McConnell, a seasoned Shakespearian actor and one hell of a funny guy (whom we haven't seen onstage since his heartbreaking portrayal of Mickey in The Normal Heart a year ago), bounces right through the script as naturally as if he were chatting over dinner. Bottom could be the most popular character in Midsummer, and the actor cast must make his ridiculous behavior as effortless and modern as an insufferable sitcom character. McConnell succeeds in spades.
The next character everyone looks to in Midsummer is, of course, Puck the mischievous fairy. Mark Westberg, fresh off his portrayal of Riff-Raff in the Playhouse's Rocky Horror Show, once again dons a vest with no shirt underneath and fantastical ghoulish makeup to bring the lively sprite to life. While occasionally edging on manic rather than just energetic, Westberg sometimes brings a little too much Rocky-style Transylvania into Athens, but in general his boundless enthusiasm is just what's needed for the role.
As tempted as I am to blindly praise females in everything they do, for most of this production, the woman actors were serviceable and fine while the men really shone. It took Zoe Burke (Helena) and Olivia White (Hermia) a little more than half the play to really hit their stride. Once they did, they traded burrs with the best of them—but it took a moment. Veronica Everett, a downright regal Titania, paired nicely with John Reiser as Oberon, but still functioned better as a part of a couple. The two were a nice depiction of that pair we all know—you know the pair: They're talented and beautiful but also assholes but also kinda perfect for each other because they're nasty jerks and deserve to date other nasty jerks.
Noah Segard portrayed Demetrius easily and with a marvelously shitty attitude (we mean that as a compliment), and Alexander Shicoff's Lysander was just as natural. A testament to Ferraccio's directing is evident in George Bergandine, a 15-year-old Shakespeare first-timer who delivers his lines as Flute/Thisbe with grace. From uber-pros to Bard virgins and everyone in between, each player held their own.
A nice tactic employed by all actors, perhaps with daydreamers like me in mind, was that in sections of script that could get long and perhaps monotonous, they would markedly change their speech or action—slow down, yell something, crouch down on the ground—to signal a change or a vital piece of information. These moments weren't disruptive or awkward, as they could have easily been. Shifts onstage zapped our attention back to the words spoken, and the important plot points were never missed. Well done.
As for the venue, the courtyard of a charter school in summer could easily be a desolate and weedy kind of place, but was just the perfect setting for some Shakespeare in the evening. There are chairs provided and a number of stone benches, but the most comfortable patrons brought camp chairs and propped their feet up on coolers. A sweet little breeze rattled leaves in the trees, and as Pyramus and Thisbe kissed through a crack in the Wall (a very funny Daniel Pérez), a few refreshing raindrops pattered down.
Overall, this was just the perfect midsummer night's activity. And if you think you don't like Shakespeare (ahem, like me), to borrow from Theseus: "No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse. Never excuse; for when the players are all dead, there needs none to be blamed."
(Except, like, instead of "dead," perhaps "great" would be more appropriate.)
A Midsummer Night's Dream: 6 pm Friday-Sunday Aug. 3-5. $15 suggested donation. Monte del Sol Charter School, 4157 Walking Rain Road, sfshakespeare.org.