Review: Geva's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' magical

01:37 PM, May 13, 2013

George Abud stars as Puck and Keith Hamilton Cobb as Oberon in Geva Theatre Center's production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. (KEN A. HUTH/Photo provided by Geva)/


Written By Marcia Morphy

If you go

What: A Midsummer NightÂ’s Dream.
When: Through June 2, with performances this week at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: Tickets start at $25.
For information: (585) 232-4382 or gevatheatre.org.

When William Shakespeare’s words doth rise, and images fill ears and eyes, young maidens realize, “The course of love never did run smooth.”

Geva’s mainstage production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream needs no fairy spell to be magical. The ensemble performance by a cast of both known and rising young stars is joyously natural, beautifully articulated and fully understandable, without sacrificing the Bard’s most popular verse along the way.

As preparation plans for the wedding of Duke Theseus (Keith Hamilton Cobb) and Queen Hippolyta (Carly Street) begin, the royalty hear a dispute from Egeus (an engaging Robert Rutland), who appeals the court regarding the arranged marriage of his daughter Hermia (Kaliswa Brewster) to Demetrius (Ian Holcomb).

But Hermia’s true love is Lysander (Sheldon Best) who devises a plan to elope with her into the woods. Her best friend Helena (Emily Kunkel), who is in love with Demetrius, knows and warns of the plot.

Tossed among the royal love salad is a band of the village’s Mechanicals, searching for an isolated spot to rehearse their production of “The Most Lamentable Comedy, the Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.” In the mix is Nick Bottom the weaver (Brian O’Connor), the most ambitious thespian who argues in his hammy way to get the play’s best parts.

Meanwhile, everyone is unaware that the dark forest is actually the secret home of the fairies, where the trickster Puck (George Abud) administers a powerful love potion that switches around everyone’s affections. Before long, Puck becomes a pawn in the love games of the fairies’ king and queen, Oberon and Titania (also Cobb and Street).

Complicated? Yes, but set in Athens, Geva’s production captures an atmosphere filled with illusion, wonder and strangeness — from Jo Winiarski’s sparkling, mystical woodland setting to Pamela Scofield’s exotic, colorful and sensual wardrobe designs.

The cast is exemplary, displaying joie de vivre playfulness while revealing 400-year-old jokes with unmatched comedic timing. Cobb and Street, in their dual roles, are every inch the royal flush, powerful and elegant, yet displaying an appropriate air of cunning and wisdom.

Meanwhile the star-crossed lovers fling themselves into boisterous physical comedy that requires some sure-footing onstage by male leads Best and Holcomb. Brewster was a miniature spitfire as the beautiful Hermia but it’s Kunkel as Helena who exudes a wonderful vulnerability as she suffers all manner of indignities along love’s path. Equally engaging was O’Connor as Bottom, the buffoon with donkeyesque qualities and Ron Menzel as his falsetto-voiced sidekick Francis Flute.

Hands down, Abud (very Johnny Depp like) was Puck everlasting. “I am that merry wanderer of the night,” he says, and with his dreadlocks, engaging grin, mischievous qualities and over-the-top agility, the actor toppled the presence of all the green-haired adorable fairies — which seemed nearly impossible to do.

Maybe his magic flower juice did cast a spell. Or was I dreaming?