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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Whoever is in love or has ever been in love knows that upside down, disconnected, clouds-are-lower-than-I-am feeling. It doesn't last forever, thank heavens, because life demands conscious participation, and taking care of its business is impossible while riding a roller coaster. But, whoowee! Ain't it grand while it lasts?

William Shakespeare knew that, some 400-plus years ago. (Hello! Love wasn't invented by eHarmony.) La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley knows that now. And he has collaborated with Shakespeare's play in creating the world that the Bard would have, had he had the facilities.

Just a few of the theatricals feature a grand piano that turns upside down and flies upwards, a fireplace that does a topsy-turvy to become a ceiling flame, a chandelier that becomes a forest tree, and an elegant drawing room that transforms into an imaginary enchanted forest. For all that, give thanks to scenic designer Neil Patel and Puppet Designer Basil Twist. For the enchantment, credit the music of Felix Mendelssohn and the 27-piece orchestra (made up of both professional musicians and members of the San Diego Youth Symphony) conducted by Eric Stern and the modern musical compositions of Mark Bennett that bring a global tonality to the dream that is this production. For extra enchantment, credit the flute player Sara Kornfeld Simpson, a San Diego Youth Symphony member who appears onstage as Indian Child, carried on a lofty pillow by Acrobats.

For the extra magic, give credit to choreographer Andrew Pacho and costume designer David C. Woolard, who showcases textures and prisms but does not take his disposition seriously. How about a bamboo cage that serves as Hippolyta's hoop skirt underpinning for just one ingenious example?

As wondrous as this production is, it does follow the Bard's storyline. The plot focuses on a mixed up love situation (Who has not fallen for the wrong person?) and a collection of fairies that mixes the wackiness even more, while they deal with difficulties and squabbles of their own. Titania (also Hippolyta, both slightly under-played by Charlayne Woodard) and Oberon are feuding over custody of an Indian boy child. Puck (an understated Martin Moran) messes up his assignment from Oberon, causing more confusion among the already-overwrought lovers. (The fairies fly from the rafters, descend on gossamer strands, climb impossible walls and crawl through window slats, by the way.) Hermia (inflatedly played as a hilarious drama queen by Amelia Campbell) loves the romantic Lysander (played by Tim Hopper, with a foppish attitude). Hermia's father, Egeus (a seriously protective Jonathan McMurtry) does not approve, preferring Demetrius (ably wrought by Sean Mahon), who has long wooed Hermia, but as a matter of convenience. Helena, the second fiddle, (perfectly played with uproarious exaggeration by J. Smith-Cameron) loves Lysander.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, a poverty-stricken group of troubadours (yes, that was redundant even in Shakespeare's day) plans the drama of Pyramus and Thisbe, a performance for the duke Theseus (also Oberon, a sturdy Daniel Oreskes). This play-within-a-play is a favorite thread because it is so silly that it demands a heightened ridiculous scheme anticipated by those familiar with the play and a set to be elaborated by the director of any production. Ashley wisely chose to elongate this yarn of the "rude mechanicals," allowing the participating actors to milk the clowning to lofty proportions. Lead by a very funny Quince (Maggie Carney), the troupers portray a wall, the moon and a lion, as well as their human characters in a clowning farce that often steals the show and certainly claims the high rung of the witty ladder in this one. But the slapstick would have fallen flat without the expertise of each and all of the players. In this production, this series of scenes delights even the most familiar of Shakespearean playgoers. Adding the African music and rhythms to the vaudevillian ensemble's presentation creates a multi-layered experience within the experience.

Bottom line. Do not miss this production, if you love Shakespeare and/or love anyone else. It closes August 22, so get your tickets and go.

Why? Because you get not only Shakespeare, but also theatricals heightened by gymnastics, Cirque de Soleil-style calisthenics, 3D movie effects in real life and one of the most fun times you can have without being in actual, initial-throes love.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" plays through August 22 on the La Jolla Playhouse's Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre stage. Performances are: Tues-Weds at 7:30pm; Thurs-Saturday at 8pm; Sundays at 7pm. Matinees on Sat & Sun are at 2 pm. Tickets are $31-$66. Reservations: lajollaplayhouse.org or (858) 550-1010.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.