As young Lysander doggedly pursues an uneven romance in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he sagely observes, "The course of true love never did run smooth."
Theater productions can also have their lumps, and the scattered Sacramento Theatre Company production of Shakespeare's popular comedy has many. Director Christine Nicholson's production throws a handful of concepts at the play, but only a few elements truly land effectively.
The play's seductive mix of love, magic and classic low comedy makes it one of Shakespeare's most frequently staged works. With four different relationships at its core, the play observes varied stages of romance from youthful innocence to mature complexity. Absent here, though, are the joyousness, mirth and creative spectacle associated with "Midsummer," and the whimsical story instead receives a dull, tamped-down staging.
Even the setting feels flat, with a series of arches framing the claustrophobically cloistered stage where a large boxlike structure it might be a carriage sits, never moving.
Nicholson attempts a breezy, minimal approach using just nine actors to fill the numerous roles. But sluggishness rules from the beginning when Duke Theseus (Troy Thomas) and Hippolyta (Carolyn Howarth) negotiate their upcoming nuptials. Troubled young love interrupts their planning when the impulsive characters of Lysander (Anthony Person) and Hermia (Melanie Marshall) wish to marry over her father's objections. Getting no satisfaction from the Duke, the lovers decide to elope, setting off misadventures that temporarily invigorate the action.
Having fled to the forest, the thwarted lovers and a pair of romantically inclined friends (Elizabeth Holzman and Brent Bianchini, each with solid portrayals) fall under the mischievous spell of Puck (Jason Oler). Their physical comedy creates the production's most animated moments.
Though costumes and music fail to integrate, all is not lost as the hapless Rude Mechanicals, led by Matt K. Miller's officious Nick Bottom and Michael RJ Campbell's effective Peter Quince, allow the production to finally loosen up and breathe. Miller's lively and pretentious community actor comically instructs his fellow town artisans as they prepare an entertainment for the Duke's wedding. Marshall and Person are particularly charming here. Howarth and Miller also elevate surroundings when Titania courts Bottom in his transformed state.
The idea of this play seemed an odd fit in STC's schedule from the outset, and this flat, awkward production only makes it more curious.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
What: Sacramento Theater Company presents the most popular of all Shakespeare's plays.
Where: STC Main Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and 12:30 p.m. Thursdays through March 24
For information: Call (916) 443-6722 or go to www.sactheatre.org
Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.