“What fools these mortals be!” When The Bard’s famous fairy trickster—aka Robin Goodfellow—utters this verse in otherworldly weeds, maybe to the strains of Mendelssohn, outdoors in an amphitheater some August night, the audience, well-conditioned, knows just where it is and what he is saying.
But when a punk rock Puck in a Sex Pistols T-shirt says the same thing, it seems to mean something else, drawing everybody in—or throwing them out—of the party. A real blowout, no gauzy rout of precious elemental folk.
So Impact Theatre’s production in mid-winter of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, envisioned and directed by Impact’s artistic director, Melissa Hillman, resets the goings on from an Athenian court and wood to an ’80s bar, an anachronism both more and less crude than some of the Festivalese stretching of Shakespeare like taffy.
The conceit of placing the action in a late 20th-century bar-room turns The Bard over to burlesque—Impact’s usual product, with its Impact Briefs, burlesque spelled with a ‘K’ at the end, the next opening appropriately on May Day. And this is the fun of it, the confusion of identities, of different (if interlocking) worlds—of youth, court, “blue collar” and supernatural—shaken up in a cocktail mixer, spilling out with a lot of fizz.
Jordan Winer plays an ardent Theseus in a short-brimmed fedora, pursuing his statuesque Hippolyta (Sarah Thomas); the lovers are Miyuki Bierlein as Hermia, a Madonna knock-off, and tomboyish Helena (Marissa Keltie) in denim jacket and cowboy boots; their beaux are the New Romantic-type Lysander (Nick Jackson) and Demetrius (Seth Thygesen) in Buddy Holly specs.
Stanley Spenger, founder of the original Shakespearean troupe in La Val’s cellar, bestows a touch of Bardic gravity on father Egeus’s protesting; and Tim Redmond as a youthful clubber Oberon plays well off his bride Titania (Sarah Coykendall) as well as majordomo Puck—Pete Caslavka, who’s really the star of the show, grimacing punkishly and doing doubletakes at all, including himself. Luisa Frasconi and Jenny Kang delightfully attend as Cobweb and Moth.
The Rude Mechanicals are a little more problematic, though very game: Steven Epperson plays Quince straight, so he is very funny, and sets up the silliness of those amateur thesbians, portrayed by Perry Aliado, Mike Delaney and Brian Turner. Notorious Bottom, heart-and-soul of this comedy—and one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, like Falstaff, as well as one of his most ambiguous—is cast as a woman. Casi Maggio is full of juice, playing the old ham up as a hot barrista, full of herself, especially good in the scenes with Titania, wearing the ass’s ears.
But something of the wildness of the old folk comedy is lost, the great contrasts, the grotesqueness beyond the Surreal that The Bard’s transformed into wonder ...
But this is a burlesque, a jumble of routines that parades the spectacle comedically, provoking gales of laughter from the audience—for some of which, the ‘80s aren’t even Nostalgia: Shakespeare in period dress (costumer Virginia Thorne’s), indeed.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 14 at La Val’s Subterranean, 1843 Euclid Ave.