These Mortals

SSU's 'Midsummer' makes new magic out of old


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its undeniable underlying sexual energy and not-so-subtle anti-authoritarian attitude, is a perfect fit for a college theater program. The energetic student cast currently bringing Shakespeare’s beloved fantasy-romance to life at Sonoma State University clearly understand the characters: the hormonal would-be lovers, the gleefully anarchistic fairies and the desperate would-be actors. The chief pleasure of this production, directed by Paul Draper, is the joy and dedication the performers bring to roles and themes with which they clearly identify.

And then there’s the car.

Thirteen years ago, Draper directed a similar production of Midsummer. It was so successful and so memorable that it’s become a part of local theater legend. Skateboards. Flying costumes. Street-people fairies—and that car.

Convincing a generation of young theatergoers that Shakespeare could be relevant, the 1998 Midsummer was a high-water mark for SSU’s theater department. It’s the reason many students give for wanting to be a part of the university’s theater department, and also the oft-cited inspiration for many young students to make Shakespeare a part of their life.

This new production is largely an experiment to see if lightning can strike twice, with Draper reassembling the same artistic team that created the original show. Using archived notes, photos, sketches and lists of inventoried props, costumes and scenery items, they’ve recreated the same look and feel of the show that lingers so clearly in people’s memories.

It’s impossible, of course, to recapture the same magic, since it has likely expanded and inflated in our minds over the years. And, of course, the original cast brought much of that magic, spun from their own unique choices. The question, then, is whether this “new” production works on its own, with actors who were mostly in elementary school when SSU first staged the piece.

Though the acting is slightly inconsistent and the pace slackens toward the end, there are some lusciously invested performances. A strong sense of take-no-prisoners electricity and a sexy, slinky exuberance charges across the stage. Whether it’s as good as ’98 will be a matter of taste. The 2011 version is infectious in its own way, from the first moment to the last.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ runs Nov. 8, 10 and 12 at 7:30pm, and Nov. 9 at 6pm, at the Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. $9–$16. 707.664.2353.