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FROM THE GOLD COUNTRY TIMES, FRIDAY, JULY 1, 2005, BY CORKY TEMPLEMAN
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the Gold Country

The woods were alive with fairies, goblins, and mortals at the Kennedy Mine on the evening of June 24th through the magic of Main Street Theatre Works' William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Although warned against dust and construction, I found the setting to be both comfortable and charming. I settled in my folding beach chair, donned my jacket, sat back and enjoyed the performance immensely.

The stage set, a facsimile of a mine, was both rustic and functional, particularly the stairs and various balconies which allowed the players, at different points in the play, to effectively deliver their lines to the audience and to invoke a great deal of movement on and off the set. Indeed, the entire amphitheatre was part of the set, with various players charging off the stage, into the upper reaches of the amphitheatre, or vice-versa, with players entering via the side aisles. This breadth of movement lent itself well to the mischievous atmosphere.

Although I found it quite difficult to reconcile the lines to the main players' western attire (there is something incongruous when a cowboy speaks of fellow Athenians) I overcame the incongruity on the strength of the acting, particularly Lysander (played by Anthony Scoggins), and Hermia (played by Julie Anchor). Lysander's effusing charm and Hermia's fire made me completely forget their attire after their first appearance, only to be reminded again when they arrived in the woods with suitcases, she twirling a parasol-a jolt to my senses! Helena, (played by Christina Sartain) was a sassy and most assertive Helena. The scene where she clings quite aggressively to Demetrius (played by David Campfield), and his frantic efforts to be rid of her were truly comical.

As for the fairy world, Ed Gyles, Jr's Oberon was larger than life, and Titania as seductive and sensual a fairy queen as can be imagined. The young fairies were adorably coiffed and dressed and I'm sure with a few more performances will relax into their netherworld selves. Scott Divine as Puck rendered a fabulous performance and so true to the spirit of the character. He was marvelous with his tremendously energetic range of movement on and off the stage as well as his theatrical antics. One of the funniest scenes occurs when Puck is nearly drooling over sleeping Hermia making all sorts of ridiculous but very real cat-like sounds. Divine became Puck, right before our eyes.

Of all the characters, the one that stood out for me was the character of Bottom, one of the 'mechanicals' played by Allen Pontes. His dramatic outbursts with Quince desiring to play all the parts in the play for Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding received a lot of laughter from the audience. But his finest performance was rendered as a donkey-- braying between lines-truly hilarious! Later in the play Pontes portrayal of Pyramus gave the play a boost after a post-Intermission lull.

The combination of strong performances, the stage set, and the mixture of music between scenes (everything from fiddle music to new age chimes) accentuated the soul of the play. At the play's end I truly did feel perhaps I had also been partially in a dream-like state, wanting to remain in the dream but knowing I must go home!

I hope you head for the hills to see these performances. Make sure to bring a sweater, chair, blanket, some insect repellent and a picnic to enjoy. For more information regarding performance schedules, visit Main Street Theatre Works website at www.mstw.org


FROM THE SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVEW, THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2005, BY JEFF HUDSON
What visions have I seen!
A Midsummer Night's Dream

These next two weekends, you can Dream and Dream again. Both the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival and Main Street Theatre Works in Jackson are staging community productions of that most flexible of Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But these shows are not identical twins.

One striking difference is that the Sacramento production looks Elizabethan. The Jackson show, staged at the Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre--where the mine dates from 1860--has a gold-rush motif.

In Jackson, Queen Titania’s fairies are played by angelic preteen girls in lacy wings--very cute! But in Sacramento, Titania’s fairies are young adults dressed as leering, hissing Celtic spirits. They’re almost like trolls.

Puck, the forest sprite and prankster, is played in Jackson by Scott Divine. He prances round the amphitheater as a bare-chested satyr with wooly legs and a wooly midriff. In Sacramento, Puck is played by a masked woman (Trina Palmer), wearing an androgynous, leafy camouflage top.

The four young, human lovers, lost in the forest, are played in Jackson by experienced actors. You’d expect Julie Anchor, David Campfield, Anthony Scoggins and Christina Sartain to be good, and they are. In Sacramento, the lovers are played by Jeff Frieders, Dan Featherston, Lia Seyman and Jennifer Nelson, three of whom are high-school students. It’s an age-appropriate but risky casting choice. However, the quartet is fresh and funny and rises to the task.

Two very funny actors play Bottom--the ordinary weaver aching to become an actor. In Jackson, Bottom is played by Allen Pontes. He’s a handsome, clean-shaven guy with a mellifluous voice, suited to the music in Shakespeare’s language. Pontes, typically a leading man, gives us Bottom as a magnetic personality. In Sacramento, Bottom is played by James Roberts--a short, stocky character actor with a gritty voice. His Bottom is pure bumpkin. Roberts bites into his incongruous lines ("I see a voice!") with relish, winning big laughs.

Bottom’s big scene is a hilariously bad performance of a tragedy, staged for a royal audience. Shakespeare wrote the scene for Bottom and five other "rude mechanicals" (tradesmen turned actors). In Jackson, the group is reduced by two. The Sacramento version, with the full complement, is funnier.

Overall, both shows are almost equally successful, though not in the same way. The Sacramento show, directed by Luther Hanson, is more antic and active, contrasting meddling fairies and hapless humans using physical comedy, underlined by onstage fiddle and drum. The Jackson production, directed by Dale Lisa Flint, is more stately and attentive to the language, radiating serenity and wholeness in the final scene. If you have the opportunity, by all means see both shows--you’ll have a lot of fun drawing comparisons and contrasts.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival; gates open at 6:30 p.m., and the show is at 8:30 p.m. on July 14, 16, 21, 24, 29 and 31; $10-$15. William Land Park, (916) 558-2228.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Main Street Theatre Works; gates open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m. on July 15, 16, 22 and 23; $10-$15. Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre, on N. Main Street in Jackson, www.mstw.org