S.F. Shakes’ ‘Dream’ is visual overload

For his new San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” director Kenneth Kelleher has taken a kitchen-sink approach; you can almost hear him saying “let’s throw it all onstage and see what sticks.”

The results are colorful, if seldom cohesive, in the free Shakespeare-in-the-park presentation that opened the company’s 25th season Sunday evening at Pleasanton’s Amador Valley Park. Additional performances are scheduled in San Mateo, San Francisco and Cupertino throughout the summer.

With its mood swings from mirth to magic, low humor to lyrical love poetry, Shakespeare’s comedy — which takes place over a long, hot night in the woods outside Athens — needs a firm directorial hand. Visually, Kelleher’s staging is all over the map. The play’s two sets of young lovers resemble contemporary slackers on their way to the prom; the King and Queen of the fairies are cast as 1970s rockers in silver lamé. Puck is a Brit-pop sprite in striped trousers and aviator glasses, and the nobles wear long, inexplicably grim military coats. Bottom and the rude mechanicals look like extras in a Marx Brothers movie.

There’s a lot going on, but no discernible center; absent a unifying concept, the visual overload tends to blunt the comedy and trample the delicacy of the poetic moments. At Sunday’s opening, the cast — making entrances at various points around the stage, including a series of trapdoors in the floor — was pushing too hard, at least in the first half of the 2½-hour show (with one intermission); even some of the surefire jokes fell flat. The fairy world felt decidedly earthbound, and the human story, with its all-important romantic stakes, didn’t seem to matter; it’s hard to get with the flow of Shakespeare’s language, or care about the characters involved, when everyone onstage is yelling.

Still, there were some fine individual performances. Summer Serafin’s girly Hermia and Maria Grazia Affinito’s geeky Helena were bright and energetic; John Sousa (Demetrius) and Nicholas Pelczar (Lysander) supplied plenty of hormones. Emily Jordan (Hippolyta/Titania) and Michael C. Storm (Theseus/Oberon) made an elegant, articulate pair, and Gary S. Martinez was a wonderfully bombastic Bottom — aristocratic, and more mature than some, which made his overbearing stage-hog behavior all the more apt.

The hilarious last scene, with the post-nuptial “Pyramus and Thisbe” play-within-a-play, was the production’s most traditional, and also the most successful; here, at least, this “Dream” yielded pure pleasure for a midsummer’s night.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Presented by San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

When, where: July 14 and 15, Pleasanton’s Amador Valley Park; July 21 to Aug. 5, Cupertino’s Memorial Park Amphitheater; Aug. 11 to 26, San Mateo’s Downtown Central Park; Sept. 1 to 23, Presidio Main Post Parade Ground, San Francisco

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 865-4434 or www.sfshakes.org

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The City is seeking to enhance health care for San Francisco International Airport workers, which include more than 100 who have tested positive for COVID-19. <ins>(Courtesy photo)</ins>
Airlines, business groups fight new health insurance requirements for SFO workers

Heathy Airport Ordinance would require companies tooffer family coverage or increase contributions

The Hall of Justice building at 850 Bryant St. is notorious for sewage leaks and is known to be seismically unsafe. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD speeding up Hall of Justice exit after another ‘large leak’

San Francisco police can’t get out of the decrepit Hall of Justice… Continue reading

The Telegraph Quartet is pictured during its SF Music Day 2020 recording session at the striking, beautifully lit and almost empty Herbst Theatre. (Courtesy Marcus Phillips)
SF Music Day goes virtual with Herbst broadcast

Performers pre-record sets in empty, iconic theater

Dr. Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, said Tuesday that student would not be back in school before the end of this calendar year. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Superintendent: City schools will not reopen before the end of the year

San Francisco public schools won’t reopen to students for the rest of… Continue reading

The admissions process at the academically competitive Lowell High School is set to change this year due to coronavirus restritions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Lowell’s selective admissions process put on hold this year — and more changes may be in the works

School board votes unanimously to use normal student assignment lottery for competitive school

Most Read