Unfortunately our regular theater critic, Thomas Jenkins, is out of the country, leaving us without a go-to person when we score front row tickets to the premier of this year's Shakespeare in the Park. Fortunately, I got to go instead, to view Magik Theatre’s rendition of the Bard’s topsy-turvy comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream
While I can’t credibly break down this performance since, you know, the whole not being a theater critic thing, I can tell you that from my average theater-goer perspective, this was a delightful production, enhanced last night with some breezy love from Mother Nature.
Richard Rosen, Magik’s creator and founder, wisely situated the outdoor stage at the Botanical Garden underneath a large leafy tree, which served as a de facto backdrop quite appropriate for the story of Athenian lovers and mystical creatures wandering the forest. The rest of the set was incredibly (and ingeniously) minimal, with scrappy looking wooden poles affixed with old-timey light bulbs standing in for tree trunks.
Midsummer has never really been about the plot; it’s more the Shakespearean equivalent of a Mel Brooks movie, with an over-the-top ensemble cast chewing the scenery from one cheap gag to the next, which of course is part of its charms. It does mean that a successful run will have top comedic talent that can enchant even the most iambic-phobic audiences. On that tip, Magik delivers. As is the case with most renditions of Midsummer (at least I can say that I’ve seen several in my time), the fairies, asses, and other buffoons were much more fun to watch than the human “leads” Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, and Helena. In particular, a spastic, cross-dressing Puck (Kacey Griffin), leggy and lascivious Titania (Mel Gonzalez*), and hammy and handsome Nick Bottom (John Stillwaggon), stood out.
One thing I continually wish for from Magik’s Shakespeare in the Park is a more fulsome use of the wide-open setting, and Midsummer would have been the perfect script to experiment with. While some effort was made to have actors run around the stage and interact with the audience, situating different scenes around the arbitrarily delineated theater “seats” (or picnic blanket spots) would have been a quirky move inline with the fanciful script.
Ah, well. There’s always next year. In the meantime, this non-critic highly recommends spending a free (or $5 suggested donation) evening under the stars with Shakespeare’s most famous fairies.
8pm, Wed-Sat, San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston, (210) 207-3250, sabot.org
*This article has been corrected; I previously misidentified the actor playing Titania