Friday, November 7, 2008

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" Delights at Oak Ridge

Can a high school do justice to one of Shakespeare’s most endearing and complicated plays? The answer is “yes,” if the school has an outstanding drama program, a professionally seasoned director and extensive support from the community. When we caught Oak Ridge High School’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” we braced for disappointment. But we came away basking in the production’s sunshine of sheer delight.

The action, taking place in and around ancient Athens, weaves together three linked story lines. The first involves the marriage preparations of Duke Theseus (Sean Rumery) to Hippolita (Alexandra Chavez), an Amazon queen. The nuptials are darkened when Hermia (Anna Wagner) defies her father, Egius (Alex Kozak), who wants her to marry Demetrius (Andre Mercer), a noble youth. But she loves Lysander (Brian Bertotti), a poet. Meanwhile Hermia’s friend Helena (Amanda Wilens), loves Demetrius, who scorns her. So the young foursome decide to run away into the woods.

Secondly we have the supernaturals. There’s the mischievous Puck (Charlie Shaeffer), servant of Oberon (Ted Pickell), king of the fairies; Titania (Rachel Koch), Queen of the Fairies, and lots of attendant fairies. When Titania defies Oberon by refusing to give him her changeling (Brandon Koch), a fairy exchanged for a human baby, he decides to punish her.

He commands Puck to pick a magic flower whose juice, touching the head of a sleeper, will cause the sleeper to fall in love with the first creature he or she sees. This stratagem draws in the third group, the “Mechanicals” (working men), who plan a play for the Duke’s wedding. First, Puck gives Bottom (Sean Biggs), the weaver, the head of an ass while he sleeps. Next he contrives to anoint Titania with the magic flower so that she wakes to see the ass-headed Bottom and fall in love with him.

But Puck is confused by the fleeing lovers and anoints the wrong heads, setting each to chase the person who rejects the pursuer as they battle hopelessly to pair up with the counterpart, who rejects them. Somehow this all gets sorted out, and the play reaches its climax with a hilarious “tragedy” by the Mechanicals, the fatal love story of Pyramus (Biggs) and Thisbe (Taylor Cross).

Under the canny direction of Rodney Franz, the cast offers fast action and outstanding acrobatics, all delivered with breathtaking energy. It’s hard to believe these are just high school kids. And they seem to love what they’re doing. The only drawback is uneven projection and articulation of the lines.

But this is not really a flaw. Franz deliberately, and rightly, avoids letting them use microphones, which have become customary in today’s theaters. Though performing for an audience, the cast is still in training. And it’s essential for them, whether they pursue careers as actors or wish to become articulate leaders in other professions, to be able to speak effectively before groups without the crutch of technology.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” continues from November 13-15 at Oak Ridge High School, 1120 Harvard Way, El Dorado Hills. Performances are 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $8-$15. Call (916) 606-7453.

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