Lysander (Tasso Feldman) woos his love Hermia (Emily Knapp).

Review: Lusty 'Midsummer Night's Dream' is a revelation

Mark Rucker's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Elizabethan style. Not limited to the play's lovers, nor even a weaver and an enchanted fairy, sexual energy saturates the moon-mad forest near Athens and takes hold of everybody who sojourns there. Throw in a little psychoactive botanical the Bard calls love juice, add some joyous music and dance, and you have a revel that righteously rocks.

The exciting "Midsummer" that kicked off the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2008 season Friday night in the Angus Bowmer Theatre was short on misty twilight and long on energy. It had more vitality than any production of the play I have seen.

The fairies are the key. They live in and represent an alternative world that exists next to and intermingles with the workaday world of Athens and the Court. If we believe in the fairies, the play's world comes to life.

Rucker and costume designer Katherine Roth's fairies come on like campy Studio 54 habitues from 1981 beamed up to San Francisco's Castro District for a Halloween Party. You keep expecting to see Bianca Jagger having a drink with Freddie Mercury.

Roth has dressed Moth, Cobweb, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed in tutus and combat boots. Puck (John Tufts) gets platform-heeled boots with wings a la Mercury — just the thing for a goblin who can girdle the world in 40 minutes. The fairies, in contrast to Theseus, never grow up. It's a disco Dream. They'll be doing this 1,000 years from now.

Peter Brook famously set "Midsummer" in a white box in 1970. Reminiscent of Brook's fairies, who manipulated the mortals below them from trapezes, Rucker's fairies station themselves high in great, organically curving monoliths created by set designer Walt Spangler, there to marvel at what fools these mortals be. The huge structures make a luminous court for Theseus (Michael Elich, channeling Arthur Fonzarelli) in Athens, but spun around and rolled into place, they become an enchanted forest.

If the fairies are timeless, the humans are living in a late-'50s-to-early-'80s kind of time. The young lovers — Emily Sophia Knapp as Hermia, Tasso Feldman as Lysander, Christopher Michael Rivera as Demetrius, Kjerstine Anderson as Helena — are as lusty and confused and foolish as ever.

I will admit that I can never remember which is which. I don't think Shakespeare bothered to differentiate them much, and that's the point of it. They are generic young fools who have moved away from the order and harmony of the Court into the lovestruck, slightly dangerous chaos of a dark place. They are interchangeable.

If these fools seem to spend most of their time in the dawn of the Reagan years, the Mechanicals are '60s holdovers, stoners maybe, in over their heads without being over the top. Ray Potter as Bottom finds a balance between amiable befuddlement and simple dignity.

It's always been odd that Oberon (Kevin Kenerly) takes revenge on Titania (Christine Albright) through Bottom, since a comic fear of the cuckold's horns runs through Shakespeare. Titania and Bottom's love scene is ridiculous, not particularly erotic and oddly touching. And for once, Bottom's post-Titania speech mangling the poetry of the King James Bible is not played for laughs. It is instead a wonder, gently comic but sublime. Grounded Bottom is the antidote for all the airy-fairyness, yet his transformation is an awakening of the imagination.

The Mechanicals' go at "Pyramus and Thisbe" almost always kills audiences. This one features some clever business with the wall that separates the doomed lovers, and a double death scene for the ages.

There is music and dance aplenty here, courtesy of the OSF's Todd Barton and guest choreographer Ken Roht. Such interludes come at the appropriate points in the script, and they reinforce, rather than compete with, Shakespeare's story.

If there's a weakness in the production, it's that the rhythm of the last couple scenes seems to slow a bit.

Very rarely do you see a production of Shakespeare in which the play seems to stand revealed anew. This is such a production. The belief in an invisible world affecting the visible one is found throughout the canon. Shakespeare suggests that "the lunatic, the lover and the poet" may have some kind of secret knowledge. Most of us aren't lunatics or poets, and Rucker has correctly put his finger on eros as the key.

This "Midsummer" is a spectacular kickoff of the Bill Rauch era at the festival, and more. It is a revelation.

It runs about two-and-a-half hours. If it were a movie it would be rated PG. It runs through the end of the season.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or

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