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REVIEW ROUNDUP: Martin Moran, J. Smith-Cameron, Charlayne Woodard, et al. Open A Midsummer Night's Dream in La Jolla

By San Diego
J. Smith-Cameron and Tim Hopper in
A Midsummer Night's Dream
(© Craig Schwartz)
J. Smith-Cameron and Tim Hopper in
A Midsummer Night's Dream
(© Craig Schwartz)
Christopher Ashley's staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream has opened at the La Jolla Playhouse. The production will run in the company's Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre through August 22.

The cast is led by Tony Award nominee Charlayne Woodard as Hippolyta/Titania, and Obie Award-winners J. Smith-Cameron as Helena and Martin Moran as Puck. The company also features Amelia Campbell as Hermia, Maggie Carney as Peter Quince, Matthew Patrick Davis as Tom Snout/Wall, Zach Harrison as Starveling/Moonshine, Tim Hopper as Lysander, Sean Mahon as Demetrius, Jonathan McMurtry as Egeus, Hugo Medina as Snug/Lion, Amanda Naughton as First Fairy, Daniel Oreskes as Theseus/Oberon, Chris Reed as Flute/Thisbe, Lucas Caleb Rooney as Nick Bottom, as well as Ken Berkeley, Matt Cusick, and Tatyana Petruk as Fairy-Acrobats and Kyle Anderson, Cate Campbell, Maritxell Carrero, Sarah Garcia, Anne Stella and Bowman Wright as Fairies.

The creative team includes Neil Patel (set designer), David C. Woolard (costume designer), Howell Binkley (lighting designer), Leon Rothenberg (sound designer), Eric Stern (music director/conductor), Basil Twist (puppet designer), and Andrew Pacho (choreographer). The production also features original music by composer Mark Bennett intertwined with Felix Mendelssohn's 1842 music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by current members and alumni of the San Diego Youth Symphony.

The initial reviews are in and the physical production has received glowing notices. Many of the principals, too, are being warmly received, although the praise for the large company varies from writer to writer.

Among the reviews are:

San Diego Union-Tribune
Bottoms-up Dream is worthy of a toast
"Ashley, the Playhouse's artistic director, masterminds a "Midsummer" focused on the notion that falling in love is like being turned upside down. So when the setting shifts from royal court to fertile forest in Shakespeare's great romantic saga, a piano levitates to the ceiling, an inverted fire burns in the hearth and chandeliers become nesting pedestals for fairies."

-----

"Cameron is a treat to watch, especially in her shift from fawning and love-struck to jilted and jaded, gnawing disconsolately on a sandwich as she listens to Demetrius' fevered but belated declarations of love. Campbell is also a comic ball of energy as the excitable Hermia."

-----

"On top of everything else, this "Midsummer" has a death scene that's pretty much to die for: The hilariously hyper-dramatic demise indulged in by Lucas Caleb Rooney as Bottom, who is himself portraying a tragic hero in a tragically awful play-within-the-play."

San Diego.com
A Midsummer Night's Dream at La Jolla Playhouse
"This 'Dream' is a happy, energetic, charming production filled with bold visions, most of which work fairly well. As for the rest? Well, there's always the endless torrent of gilded words and there's quite a bit of Mendelssohn's precious score - performed live!"

-----

"Ashley has smoothly avoided directorial excess in the two most flashy male roles, the bombastic striver Bottom and the mercurial spirit Robin Goodfellow, called Puck. Both parts invite over-the-top elaboration and rare is the actor who can strike the neat balance. Ashley has cast well and encouraged a healthy sheen of contemporary comedy. Thus Martin Moran controls Puck's exuberance but remains alert to gags than make the boss laugh while Lucas Caleb Rooney is a true adventure guide, drawing everybody else into having nearly as much fun as he does."

-----

"Ashley has cast the four Athenian lovers older than usual, which serves mostly as an excuse to get the superb J. Smith-Cameron into a juicy comedy role, Helena, the tall one. Though Amelia Campbell overdoes the pug-dog aspect of Hermia, she pulls her oar. And the guys, Tim Hopper and Sean Mahon, are as ardent and privileged as a pair of fairytale princes."

Los Angeles Times
Theater review: A Midsummer Night's Dream at La Jolla Playhouse
"Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse and the director of this year's Tony-winning musical "Memphis," takes a decidedly melodious approach to the romantic escapades. His staging, tumbling about a grand manor house with magical properties, is saturated with music, courtesy of Mark Bennett, whose original score is intertwined with some of Felix Mendelssohn's classic compositions for the play. An onstage orchestra, largely composed of current members and alumni of the San Diego Youth Symphony, lends the feeling of a giddy gavotte."

-----

"But while the cast (featuring a comically captivating J. Smith-Cameron and a majestic Charlayne Woodard) is quite capable of holding its own against the shape-shifting scenery, the production doesn't plunge us very deeply into the poetry. This "Dream" is content with being as pleasingly evanescent as fireworks on a summer night."

-----

"Rooney playing Bottom playing Pyramus and Christopher Douglas Reed playing Flute playing Thisby chomp into the "tragical mirth" with maximum gusto. Their farcical insouciance may not leave much room for the subtler undertones of mortality that darken Shakespeare's "Dream." But in keeping with the production's lighthearted vision, they take great delight in demonstrating the way "quick bright things come to confusion.""

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