Review: ZJU Theatre Group’s Sexy, Funny MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

MIDSUMMER - ZJU Theatre Group

It never ceases to amaze me how effectively the members of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group can create an atmosphere in their incredibly intimate – make that tiny – black box. You would think a small space might limit their options but they have proven, over and over again, their innate ability to suggest time and place using even the simplest of objects.

For their current production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they transport the audience to Athens with only a cascade of glittering stars and a moon, affixed to the black walls, plus a partial Greek column that doubles as a fairy seat. Eclectic pre-show music further enhances the ambience and shows their sense of humor with a mix of songs that includes Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day,” “Volare,” “That’s Amore,” “Love Shack,” “Funkytown,” and even the country favorite “Crazy.” Notice everything because there is no random choice made here. 

Director Denise Devin is known for her hour-long adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics and Midsummer easily lends itself to her kind of truncated affair. Essential plot points are covered: lovers flee to be with their beloved, a troupe of amateur players rehearse their play, and feuding fairies resolve their differences here in Devin’s woodland playground.

It is a boisterous, energetic, and delightfully messy production with plenty of suggestive undertones – and a few comically overt ones – that make the hour fly by. Point of focus is critical in the venue and Devin uses stillness to balance the more active scenes quite nicely. Still, it’s a rough night for Shakespeare’s lovers: Demetrius (Dorian Serna), Hermia (Arielle Davidsohn), Lysander (Robert Walters) and Helena (Nicole DeCroix), as each entrance finds them more disheveled and raggedy than the last.

Helena and Lysander’s hilarious chase scene takes advantage of one of the fortuitous assets of the theater and Titania’s (an excellent Ashley Fuller) flower-rimmed bower does as much to highlight Fuller’s attributes as it does to provide Oberon (Lamont Webb) the opportunity to bewitch her. Their disagreement over the changeling boy he desires, and she withholds, is a lusty clash of wits that swings in Fuller’s favor whenever she speaks; her low, silky voice acting like a magnet for both Oberon, and later Bottom (Quinn Knox), when the poor man is turned into an ass and she becomes enamored of him.

MIDSUMMER - ZJU Theatre Group

Bottom is cast against type with Knox much more handsome and svelte than the typical character actor who normally plays the role. While he is vocally strong, the jokes don’t land when delivered by a leading man and the situational comedy comes off feeling forced. It also changes the dynamics of the Mechanicals who are meant to be a motley crew of “hempen homespuns,” as funny looking as they are speaking. Knox’s carriage is too noble, although his lyrical choreographed version of Bottom’s Dream is lovely. Sarah Fairfax’s Peter Quince is the quirky standout and much my favorite of the bunch.

Among the rest of the cast, performances contribute to an overall effect rather than searching out nuance, although Walters’ Lysander is a fully-dimensional youth. Katherine Bowman’s sing-song baby doll take on Puck doesn’t allow the mischievous fairy to go much beyond giggling but it does soften Oberon’s percussive tribal energy.

Music and sound effects continue to be important throughout the show. Titania taunts Oberon with “Mr. Big Stuff” and the fairies rock the ground to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” before this midsummer night fades into morning.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

June 27 – August 15, 2014
ZJU Theatre Group
4850 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Reservations: (818) 202-4120


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