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 Devine. 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.