Even if you are familiar with this Shakespeare comedy, I think you will find the setting and the theme of this production, directed by Rob Salas, surprising. It is a loving salute to the bicycle.
“Without a doubt, bicycles make Davis unique. What has fascinated us about bikes is not just their presence in Davis or their convenience, but something deeper,” the program notes say. “We are inspired by the thriving culture and sense of community that comes from a town that embraces bikes. We are inspired by their mechanics, which still seem magical amidst today’s advanced technology.”
Bicycle pieces adorn the posts of the gazebo, bicycle tires are strung together to create a ladder to the crawl space above the stage, and characters make their entrances either riding or pushing all sorts of wheeled vehicles, from scooters to clunker bicycles, to specially designed cycles. (Special thanks are given to The Davis Bike Collective and The Bike People.)
Since there is no specific set designer listed in the program, this was obviously a collaborative effort, and very successful.
Local artist Rebecca Portney is credited with “more intricate props,” including the figure of the young Indian Prince kidnapped by Titania, Queen of the fairies (Jessica Spaw, who also plays Hyppolyta, betrothed to Theseus, the Duke of Athens).
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” tells several stories, each of which occurs during a single summer night in a magical forest outside Athens, in which fairies play pranks on lovesick mortals, and earnest youths endure comical romantic confusion.
(There is a bit of confusion for the audience as well, since the cast has chosen to rearrange scenes, putting a scene between Oberon and Titania as the opening scene, rather than later in the play.
(“We moved the scenes around to set a precedent for the use of bike parts, the importance of the magical fairy world, and to get the feel for why Titania and Oberon are fighting,” explains Steph Hankinson. “Usually we feel that this gets lost in the action of the play and with the ‘changeling child’ never being a physical presence.”
The cast of this show numbers nine, with most actors playing two or three parts. The exception is Robert Williamson, playing the slow-witted Bottom, head of the bike mechanics, rehearsing a play in the woods to later present to Theseus (Rob Salas, who also plays Oberon, the king of the fairies).
Williamson is a terrible actor. But that’s OK, because he’s supposed to be and one must be a pretty good actor to portray the character of a believably terrible actor. Bottom is later turned into a donkey by the mischievous fairy Puck (Gia Battista) and I won’t even begin to describe his donkey costume. It must be seen to be believed. It is definitely in keeping with the bicycle theme; kudos to costume designer Caitlin Cisek, who outdid herself on that one!
Battista (also playing Philostrate, charged with organizing entertainment for the Duke’s wedding) is a less playful Robin Goodfellow (“Puck”) than many, but still manages to create enough mayhem for everyone.
The ever-solid Hankinson (who also plays Quince, the mechanic and Cobweb the fairy) is Egeus, who brings daughter Hermia (Brianna Owens) to the court of Theseus, asking that the Duke convince her to marry Demetrius (Jose Cagigal, also playing the mechanic Snout and Peaseblossom), her mother’s choice for her daughter.
(Owens is adorable as Hermia, and yet changes character completely in her roles as the mechanic Starveling and one of the fairies. It’s a very talented performance.)
Headstrong Hermia, however, is in love with Lysander (Will Klundt, also playing mechanic Flute and Mustardseed).
To confuse matters even further, Hermia’s best friend Helena (Erika Haaland, also mechanic Snug and Moth) is in love with Demetrius, who can’t stand her because he is in love with Helena. The plot is confusing enough itself, without having actors play multiple roles! However, thanks to ingenious costuming by Cisek, somehow it all works, and works well.
Puck, trying to carry out his master Oberon’s orders, confuses things and it results in all the wrong people falling in love with all the wrong people. Mayhem and merriment ensue, but all gets sorted out at the end.
The mechanics finally get to put on their play, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, which is worthy of any slapstick comedy you may have seen. It’s hilarious. My favorite costume was that of Snout, who plays the wall with a “chink,” through which the star-crossed lovers communicate. Brilliant bit of costume choice!
This production works on so many different levels. The costumes and scenery are a big hit, but the play would go nowhere without the work of nine very talented actors. Do yourself a favor and see this show before it ends Oct. 2.