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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a devilishly tricky play.

Of course, it's got the challenge, like any of the Bard's work, of bringing the language to life but more than that this play’s world is especially enchanted. It's a world of fairies and magical potions and hobgoblins: where a man can be transformed into an ass. And in this case - oh what an ass!

Most productions take the tack 'okay, right. We'll let the language do the work.' That's always a good place to start with Shakespeare but I think A Midsummer Night's Dream requires something more . . . something magical. We are, after all, in the world of lovers and in the forest of dreams.

Leave it to the Bristol Old Vic and the Handspring Puppet Company, the South African company who brought the magic to War Horse, to create A Midsummer at the Broad Stage that's filled with imagination.

Handspring's puppets are wondrously incomplete. This isn't puppetry where you can believe the puppet and forget the puppeteer. These are creations that rely as much on the imagination of the audience as the virtuosity of the performers. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is brought to life by an actor with little more than a giant statuesque Grecian head and an over-sized articulate hand. Puck, the navish sprite, finds life in an assemblage of spare parts: an oil can head, a saw, a wicker basket. His breath comes from a trio of actors who constitute and dissolve this magical creature in the blink of an eye. You believe that he really could "put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes." And Bottom's transformation into an ass? Cheeky doesn't even begin to describe it. It's worth the price of admission all by itself.

But this is more than a Shakespeare play with puppets.

Director Tom Morris has conjured a world where the forest itself comes to life. Using the gifted ensemble and simple planks of lumber, Shakespeare's wood becomes a character in this Dream. It's a forest that breathes, that magically obscures lovers, that creates the music of a rain storm with simple percussive taps. As Theseus says, in a line that’s ironically cut from this production, "Or in the night, imagining some fear, How easy is a bush supposed a bear!"

That's the true magic of this production. More than just a gimmick, the puppetry reveals rather than obscures Shakespeare's language. What will stay with you beyond the wonder of the stagecraft is a production that makes sense of the language and makes you believe in a world where love can be both magical and terrifying.

If you're a lover of Shakespeare and stage magic don't miss this production. You've got two weeks to catch it.

And this being the feast or famine world of LA theater, Peter Brook's Bouffes du Nord production The Suit is playing at the same time at UCLA.

So clear your schedule - you've got some theater to see.

A Midsummer Night's Dream plays at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica through April 19.

Peter Brook's production of The Suit also plays at UCLA through April 19.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.


 Banner image: Simon Annand

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