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Midsummer’s Kaleidoscope

Josele de Guzman, Sammy McClymonds Nguyen and John Daskalakis from Hitia O Te Ra Dance Company. Photo by Jordan Kubat.
Josele de Guzman, Sammy McClymonds Nguyen and John Daskalakis from Hitia O Te Ra Dance Company. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

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.

Miguel Perez as Oberon. Photo by Jordan Kubat.
Miguel Perez as Oberon. Photo by Jordan Kubat.

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.

Good Villain

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Richard Thomas as Iago. Photo by Jim Cox.

What I find interesting about the play Othello is that Iago who isn’t the main character demands attention to the point of making himself the main character. Sometimes a story begins with thoughts of a main character or two and often the writer doesn’t set out to focus on this supporting character. It could be that Richard Thomas, John Boy from “The Waltons” plays Iago, but I don’t think so. It certainly helps. Shakespeare writes Iago in the first scene showing he’s a liar as Roderigo played by Jonny Orsini says Iago has access to his money. Iago denies it. The way Thomas discards a match in the air with no care of his surroundings shows us how despicable this Iago is. We know this guy is a villain, but he is likeable and entertaining.

What makes a likeable villain?

Thomas’ Iago has no redeeming qualities. He makes us laugh with the written word. There is one part that doesn’t take away from nor give to the play. It is a side of Iago we like. He’s playful and doesn’t believe he is doing wrong. He believes he is only helping the people do what they would have done anyway. In Cyprus as they are at war for a long time, the military men party with the local women. The live music halts then Thomas dances around singing the beat with a bottle of wine. He fills the cup of Cassio played by Noah Bean in hopes to cause a fight between him and Roderigo. This happens a few more times with Thomas giving a thrust of the hips at the end of his display with a “Pow!” He’s fun and despite his grotesque flaws we like him.

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Kristen Connolly as Desdemona and Blair Underwood as Othello. Photo by Jim Cox.

Another part of the play that calls my attention is when Othello played by Blair Underwood has his wife Desdemona played by Kristen Connolly follow him to Cyprus. (Yes, this is the Blair Underwood from “Ironside” and “Sex and The City.”) It seems a bit strange that the women would be so close to their men in war time. I’m not a historian, but perhaps this was the way when the wars were long. Othello isn’t Shakespeare’s longest play, but I did expect the Globe’s production to be longer. Director Barry Edelstein did cut out some of the play, but it didn’t make a negative impact.

Original music composed by Curtis Moore sets the mood in the first scene as Thomas’ Iago walks in with the ensemble hitting sticks and pounding rods. We get a play and a concert with musicians Jonathan Hepfer and Ryan Nestor in the veranda of the stage. Sound effects are heard under Underwood’s monologue adding intensity.

Not only were there stars on stage, but stars in the audience. Melinda Clarke made an appearance with her beautiful red hair. She is unmistakable. I am a fan of hers in “The O.C.” Funny, Renaissance Man and I saw Ben McKenzie from “The O.C.” at the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival some years ago.

I visited The Old Globe gift shop and bought a few things. I love pencils. I should have seen the collecting of pencils as a sign that I should be a writer. The pencils are black with The Old Globe written in bronze with the insignia of the theatre. I also couldn’t resist a William Shakespeare Air Freshener in Shakespearmint.

Before the show Renaissance Man and I enjoyed the newly revamped Balboa Park in San Diego where The Old Globe finds its home. The bridge is now open and the parking by the art museum and turn-about is taken out so people can rent a surrey and ride around or walk without having to stop for a car. We ate at The Prado restaurant for the first time. It is festively decorated with painted dark walls and large windows to view the patio covered in hanging lights and red and purple umbrellas. Inside, art inspired by Dale Chihuly creates lighting as a lamp and an entrance piece. The food is good, but the service could be better. I prefer to have my food staggered rather than all of it in front of me getting cold. I saved room for the brownie at the Globe’s café which serves soup in a sourdough bowl. It’s another option for a light dinner close to the theatre.

Edelstein’s Othello has definite memorable parts that are evenly distributed. I will remember Thomas’ Iago dancing devilishly, sharing in the experience of Underwood’s Othello having a seizure and Connolly’s sad, drawn-out death with choking sounds that made me cry. Shivers.

Othello by William Shakespeare directed by Barry Edelstein runs from June 22 – July 27, 2014 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. (This is an open-air theatre so bring a sweater and blanket.)

The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA, 92101 Phone (619) 231-1941.