A Noise Within’s new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a wildly inventive and visually arresting spectacle for the senses. Co-directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott swing for the fences, creating a dark and fantastical world where fairies and magic exist and they interact with humans in ways that create mystery, mayhem, and love….lots of love!
We are led through a mysterious forest full of Athenian would-be lovers, mischievous fairies, and a band of raucously enthusiastic amateur actors who all engage in increasingly madcap shenanigans. Three main stories intersect; the Athenian youths, on the run lovers Lysander and Hermia, chased by Demetrius who wants to wed Hermia, and Helena who is in love with Demetrius who loves her not; Fairy sovereigns Titania and Oberon (with actors doubling as Athenian ruler Theseus and Amazonian queen Hippolyta) are fighting and engaged in antics of their own, while the acting troupe prepares their play involving a lion and a talking wall and parents that separate two young lovers that is delightfully terrible. As Lysander says “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And so it is with this awfully funny exploration of love and all of its messy, complicated and beautiful consequences.
We are led through much of the goings on by a decidedly mischievous Kasey Mahaffy, reveling in his naughtiness, as the fairy Puck. He clucks with glee at the chaos he makes, sometimes unintentionally, but no mind, he’s here for the fun. Mahaffy has a ball jumping over walls, out of trunks, and literally flying into the thick of it all. Erika Soto is a defiant and sensual Hermia with Riley Shanahan as a most earnest and, with a dash of fairy potion, dopily in love Lysander. Jeanne Syquia is a standout as she stomps indignantly as the passionate and wronged Helena. She and a hysterically determined Rafael Goldstein as Demetrius, have some of the funniest physical moments in the show. These four are fun to root for.
Frederick Stuart is ludicrously entertaining as Bottom, the most hammy and “actor-y” of the amateur thespians. He is always a delight and here he captures the absurdity and pathos of a man, who gets turned into a donkey, who grasps and loses love but ultimately gets his moment on stage. The rest of his troupe consist of a boisterous and diplomatic Alex Morris as ringleader, Peter Quince, Brendan Mulligan as Snug, and Ed F. Martin as Flute. Cassandra Marie Murphy has a dreamy voice and is an enchanting partner for Puck as the First Fairy. The always captivating Trisha Miller is a feisty and fierce Titania/Hippolyta and is beautifully paired with the incredibly charismatic Zach Kenney as Oberon/Theseus. The ensemble is adeptly completed by ELAC graduates Hakop Mkhsian and Erick Valenzuela, and USC School of Dramatic Arts students Greta Donnelly, Rachel Han and Lauren Sosa.
The directors and design team have created a dark and dreamlike, industrialized world for the actors to play in – with “concrete” walls flying in and out to create various innovative spaces including a particularly humorous crawl space in which Demetrius continues to run away from Helena. The Angela Balogh Calin costumes are out of this world absurd and lush, especially when it comes to the fairies, some of which fly in and out a la Cirque de Soleil. Less appealing are the drab jumpsuits worn by the play within the play acting troupe, but I guess that is a nod to the industrial world they have created. ANW is known for Robert Oriol’s original compositions and sound design and in this case the singing adds another layer of whimsy to the proceedings.
At times the action can get very broad to the point I felt some of the language and comprehension got a bit lost but overall, the show is funny, clever and mad entertainment.
Performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream run through November 12 on Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets start at $29. Student tickets start at $18. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.
A Noise Within is located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is recommended for mature audiences ages 14 and up. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (626) 356-3100 or visit www.anoisewithin.org