A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by Shakespeare Orange County, I believe is my fourth time seeing this play. SDSUs mechanicals made me laugh hard, The Old Globe’s Jay Whittaker is always transforming, South Coast Repertory’s set design by Cameron Anderson was amazing, but so over-the-top that an actor tripped on a prop. Shakespeare Orange County will go down as the best interpretation I have seen.
Many people say Midsummer is their favorite Shakespeare play. It’s lovely, but it’s never been mine. I always feel like there is something missing in the story that I am not getting. With all the chaos the story wraps up too easily for me. Then I had an ah-ha moment reading Director Susan Angelo’s notes in the playbill. This is a meeting of two different cultures. Looking back at all the photos of past plays it’s obvious, but somehow all the conflicting relationships and the fairies messing with the humans distracts me from the story. It totally makes sense as Director Angelo’s points out that this was a time when Shakespeare wondered what existed outside of England. And what an imagination he had. Angelo also goes on to explain that “Egeus wants to forsake his culture and assimilate into the Athenian one, which he deems more advanced than his own.” She takes these two cultures and intertwines them into Midsummer by using local Polynesian dancers, which drives the point of cultures colliding then uniting.
The Hitia O Te Ra Dance Company with Music Director Alex Tekurio leading the drummers begin with the Te Ari’I (The Prince) dance. Prince Hauai’i is The Prince of Peace who is born on a peaceful, happy island, but then he grows up and needs to prove his worthiness to live on the island. He is sent away on a canoe to find peace. The Prince dance is the perfect set up for the Changeling Boy played by a young dancer Solomona Tafua.
The thirty-two dancers fill the room with color and energy. The young men and women dance separated. The ladies make this sound of joy at the back of their throat as they move their hips to layers of beats. Their toes and knees are working to bounce their hips. Their curly hair falls all around them to their waist. I’m pretty sure it’s really their hair. It’s possible there are extensions, but being that they are young it could be their hair. They move their hands gracefully telling a story while the boys jump in coordinating regalia. The squatting required has created defined leg muscles in the young men.
Another dance called Pa’o’a is a Tahitian story about finding love. Dancers come out in yellow regalia that symbolizes love and friendship. The teenaged girl and boy dance flirtatiously to attract each other. The girl moves up to the risen stage to turn her back and move her hips. The dance symbolizes the chase between a man and a woman as they find love.
The Athenian officers watch the native dancing that has been magically brought onto the stage by Oberon (Miguel Perez) and Titania (Amanda Zarr). Perez’ Oberon is unreasonable as expected about the Changeling Boy and Zarr’s Titania is beautiful as usual. Zarr is in white flowing material with a golden head-dress and green eye shadow that meets her eyebrows. I know, the eye shadow doesn’t sound beautiful, but it is.
Hippolyta (Kapua Miyahira-Chow) introduces Theseus (Jeremy Schaeg) to her world. The dancers come out again in different elaborate regalia. The Creation dance is about the formations of the island and a man and a woman. The emotions of love and compassion are discovered.
Usually Hippolyta and Theseus feel removed from the play or bookends or Theseus can be played as harsh in the beginning. Miyahira-Chow and Schaeg thread the story together by uniting the cultures. In the end, Schaeg encourages a desperate Egeus (Bryan Taylor) to let his daughter Hermia (Mikki Pagdonsolan) love whom she chooses.
The four lovers Demetrius (Morgan Lauff), Lysander (EJ Arriola), Helena (Patricia Fa’asua) and Hermia (Mikki Pagdonsolan) are fun and entertaining. Fa’asua’s Helena has no shame. It’s always interesting to see where the director or actors take the scene where Helena says she will be Demetrius’ dog. Fa’asua clings to Lauff’s leg and licks his pants.
The mechanicals are funny too as they are part of the entertainment at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Nick Bottom (Thomas Bradac) expresses his concern of scaring the women in the rehearsal scene. As they act the play out Bradac kills himself repeatedly and creatively with poison then a rope then a cut to the throat and finally a knife to his gut. Peter Quince (Nicholas Thurkettle) reads the prologue nervously, finding his voice. Flute (Stephen Novick), Snout (Gene Godwin), Snug (Jesses Pudles) and Starveling (Louis Jack) act out the nonsensical play within a play.
The dancers add to the entertainment at the wedding with the dance, Ua Mamu, which is The Return of the Prince. The dancers are dressed in light grass with seashells on the head-dress. The girl in the photo reminds me of a doll I used to have that I think my grandpa brought back from Hawaii. It was nice to see the real thing.
The audience had a great time too. The Polynesian audience hooted and hollered along with the dancers. People walked out commenting how much they enjoyed SOC’s Midsummer.
You will walk away thinking about the kaleidoscope of colors and cultures.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from June 21 – July 19, 2014.
SOC, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove, CA 92840. Box Office (714) 590-1575.