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What the Puck? 

It's a nightmare scenario for this Midsummer Night's Dream.

Where the heck is the Reduced Shakespeare Company when you need them? They're the ingenious comedy trio that hilariously performs all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in the fiendishly efficient time of 97 minutes. That's a good 30 minutes less than it takes Beck Center players to deflate just one of old Will's products, the sprightly comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream.

This slight but pleasant work involving misdirected lovers, a rollicking amateur acting troupe, and a posse of mischievous fairies has been reimagined in countless ways over the years. These versions include playing it as a 1930s B-movie and placing it in settings from 17th-century Tuscany to a present-day arboretum. It is almost mandatory to offer such new perspectives, since the play is so numbingly familiar to most people.

Unfortunately, director Jerrold Scott, throwing creativity to the wind, places this production right where it started, in ancient Greece. You know it's ancient Greece because the set is adorned with tall Grecian columns and flowing sheer drapes that could be a backdrop for that old SNL vomitoreum skit. Scott's lack of imagination must have rubbed off on scenic designer Don McBride, because when the action shifts to the magical forest, the columns remain anchored in place, with some lights and fake foliage dropped in front.

But that's a minor point. The real culprits in this arid enterprise, other than the idea-challenged director, is a cast that is largely ill equipped to handle the bard's lovely language. The two romantic swains, Demetrius (Geoffrey Hoffman) and Lysander (Scott Esposito), are blandly indistinguishable. Instead of fashioning dimensional characters, the actors play emotions (be angry; now be romantic!).

Besides being wrong physically for the role of short and spunky Hermia, Elizabeth Pitman kills her lines with a flat suburban monotone, rushing headlong to get to the end of each speech. As Helena, Kat McIntosh emotes at one unvarying pitch while continually turning her head to face the audience, even when she's speaking to another character. And portraying Puck, the impish fairy, the perpetually dazed-looking Jeff Marsey never comes close to capturing the special verve of this charming sprite.

Meanwhile, the competent actors find various ways to occupy their time onstage. Fabio Polanco plays Oberon, the King of the Fairies, with a stolid reserve, often staring into space as if he's trying to transport himself to another production in a faraway land. Tracee Patterson, as Queen Titania, lucks out, since her character logs a lot of sack time.

Most amusing of the bunch is Tony Petrello as Bottom, a slam-dunk part for any decent actor, since overacting goofily is mandatory. Although Petrello completely misses the pathos of the role, he milks it for all the yuks possible -- both in and out of the ass's head.

As usual with this play, the last 20 minutes are surefire, as Bottom and his cohorts stage a fractured, frantic, and hugely condensed romantic tragedy for the Duke of Athens. If only they had somehow commandeered the whole show.

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