Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shotgun Players

Veronica Renner (top) and Jamin Jollo
Photo by Ben Krantz Studio
A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the world's most performed plays. With its intersecting love stories, capricious, meddling faeries, cruel, controlling parents, and the vagaries of true love–plus all that gorgeous Shakespearean language–it's no wonder not a day goes by but that the play is being performed somewhere. Whether it's a high school production, one of many Shakespeare festivals, or the production by the University of Michigan's Nichols Arboretum that staged the play in an actual forest, with audience members following the action as it moves from location to location, you're never far from a production of this classic.

It is therefore a challenge for theatre directors to come up with fresh ways of presenting something virtually every theatregoer has seen at least once. So, kudos to director William Thomas Hodgson for heightening the silliness, the musicality, the ribaldry, and the chaotic nature of Shakespeare's text in this production by Shotgun Players.

For those hermits who have never seen a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the story takes place in ancient Athens. The Duke of Athens, Theseus (Veronica Renner), is soon to be wed to Hippolyta (Radhika Rao). In the days leading up to the marriage, Egeus (Susannah Martin) asks the Duke to force her daughter Hermia (Celeste Kamiya) to marry young Demetrius (Fenner Merlick), but Hermia will have no other man than Lysander (Devin A. Cunningham, a last-minute replacement for a cast member who fell ill, requiring Cunningham to perform the role with script in hand). Offered the choice of execution or life as a nun, Lysander and Hermia flee to the nearby forest with Hermia's best friend Helena (Rolanda D. Bell), who was thrown over by Demetrius so he could pursue Hermia.

Also in the forest are a group of laborers who have decided to stage a production of "the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe" in honor of the Duke's upcoming nuptials. These include Nick Bottom, a weaver (Oscar Woodrow Harper III in a gloriously manic performance), who ends up stealing not only their play-within-the-play, but pretty much the whole damn show.

And, of course, the forest is filled with faeries, including one of the Bard's most famous and memorable characters, Robin Goodfellow, known as Puck, played here by Jamin Jollo with a ferocity that amplifies Puck's impish, trickster nature.

The joy of this production is the joy director Hodgson has imbued into every scene, and inspired in every member of his cast and crew. It's a joy that can somehow co-exist with the chaotic nature of the play. Lovers are fooled by potions into falling for the wrong person (and in one instance, the wrong species), authority is overthrown, and it's a wildly meandering path to the happy ending. The costumes (by Ashley Renee) are appropriately chaotic themselves, wild mashups of color and pattern that add an extra vibrancy to the proceedings.

Hodgson's efforts also get a tremendous boost of energy from the music created by composer and music director Erika Oba, which adds fillips of emphasis and playfulness throughout the production.

There are a few small changes here that might peeve a Shakespearean purist, as when Bottom, in his role as Pyramus in the play-within-the-play, keeps mangling his character's name in various odd (but very funny) ways. (Especially since he's doing it with a sort of hillbilly accent.) Or when the invective "bitch" is thrown at one of the female characters. But it works because it all serves the greater purpose of highlighting Shakespeare's irreverence of authority. Along the way, Hodgson takes advantage of lots of little opportunities to add/discover some sexual subtext that led to delightful giggling from the opening night crowd.

There are only a few of Shakespeare's plays where one can have a rollicking good time–this is most definitely one of them.

A Midsummer Night's Dream has been extended through April 27, 2024, at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 5:00pm. Tickets are $28-$40. For tickets and information, please see