A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
It’s not always the best choice for a group of theatre artists just barely out of college to attempt the Shakespearean tragedies, as this same troupe of players did by inaugurating their summer festival in June with a rather clunky and uneven presentation of Hamlet, but there’s something wonderfully Teflon about the Bard’s comedies — most particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s difficult in almost any situation not to be entertained by Titania’s band of fairies cavorting their spirited way through any random moonlit forest or to enjoy that endearingly goofy quartet of Athenian lovers grabbing each other in their drug-induced euphoria.
This is surprisingly even true of Tall Blonde Productions’ Midsummer, now playing al fresco among the celebrity dead as part of Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s first annual summer of “Shakespeare in the Cemetery.” Even though here Hermia’s father Egeus is played by the fresh-faced and Blue Man-agile Royce Thomas Johnson, who looks as though he doesn’t yet shave and sports a fake moustache right out of a Marx Brothers comedy, it’s just fine and dandy.
See, with Tall Blonde’s Midsummer, the sky’s the limit, especially is this case where it’s performed not only under the night sky but among the tombs and crypts and quaking geese of the media-friendly Hollywood Forever. Director Chrisanne Blankenship has done a masterfully fanciful job of staging this familiar and oft-presented classic utilizing the best traits of her youthful cast, complete with screaming end-runs up the graveyard’s steep hillside and loose-limbed acrobatic tussles between the warring lovers that could even wake from the dead both Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr., whose final resting places and their connecting reflecting pool is where the action takes place.
Played in modern dress and featuring an accompanying score of raucous New Orleans-style jazz, once again this enduring story takes on a life of its own, forgivingly enhanced by the fairies offering their section of iambic pentameter as a Fosse-style song and dance number to the tune of Fever and, when things go awry, Peter Quince (a nicely distraught Parvesh Cheena) quelling the rabble with a Harry Potter-inspired “Wingardium Leviosa!”
Italome Ohikhuare is a perfectly woebegone Hermia, while Katherine Brandt pulls out all the right wailing stops as Helena, Shakespeare’s juiciest comic heroine. As their sparring suitors, Michael Perl is a standout as Demetrius, underplaying the character just enough to make his later magical enchantment all the more hilarious, while Ryan Pfeiffer is a worthy counterpoint to him as Lysander—although his earlier work is the opposite here: a tad too big, even in this space that often swallows up dialogue into the night air.
Although a few decades too young for the role, Eric Hunicutt, a major highlight as Hamlet’s Guildenstern earlier this summer, is a marvelously slapstick and slovenly Bottom, leading the Keystone Cop antics of his side-splitting band of “hard-handed” rustics (Cheena, Johnson, Alexandra Adair, Rebecca Russ, and a none-too-pretty Blake Silver as Flute and Thisbee) with consummate comedic skill.
As the Bard himself said in his Antony and Cleopatra: “He wears the rose of youth upon him, from which the world should note something particular.” With this imperfect but charming mounting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there’s obviously a rosy future ahead for this exceptionally fervent youthful company of players when they ripen a bit.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Fridays and Sundays at 8pm (gates open at 7pm for picnicking) through Sept. 2 at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Bl., Hollywood; for tickets, call 800.595.4849.