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Great Lakes grooves on Shakespeare

Great Lakes TheaterFestival continues its mania for recycling. The company has appropriated one of western civilization's most performed comedies, William Shakespeare's late 16th-century A Midsummer Night's Dream, and staged it in the renovated 1920s-era Hanna Theatre, with a production set in the '60s.

GLTF first presented this production in 2002, propelled by Beatles tunes with Athenians in Partridge Family duds. The actors cavorted with Moe, Larry, and Curly abandon, exuding funky style amid a strange wheat maze. It demonstrated that Shakespeare can not only be fun, but psychedelic.

For the revival of Charles Fee's CliffsNotes hippiefest, the company has retrieved the original-cast Volkswagen from a local florist. But those who got a headache from the 2002 love-in will find the current production vastly improved by the acoustical and visual intimacy of the troupe's new home. Added pleasures include a trapdoor for maharishi-garbed fairy folks' stunning entrances and exits.

Katharine Hepburn is said to have observed that Fred Astaire gave Ginger Rogers class, and Rogers gave Astaire sex. Similarly, Fee and choreographer Martin Cespedes enhance each other's work. Fee's manic energy heightens Cespedes' period-dance interludes, while Cespedes' penchant for historical references spiced with Fosse-esque gambols complements Fee's anarchy. So when the play's four fleeing lovers follow pandemonium with a dance quote from Fosse's "Rich Man Frug," the scene is elevated from tedious slapstick to musical-comedy euphoria.

The flaw at the heart of Fee's concept is that his '60s paraphernalia never goes beyond window dressing. It would have been intriguing if he had worked Abbie Hoffman-like rebellion into the soul of Shakespeare's play rather than merely using the zeitgeist as an excuse to incorporate Beatles songs and fringed vests.

Although never profound or magical — and deficient in delineating fairies from mortals — the production has costume-party joys. At its center is Eduardo Placer's impish Puck, hitting mortals' derrieres with his supernatural tambourine and prancing through the production's improbable wheat fields like a refugee from a road company of Godspell. David Anthony Smith's Bottom evokes fond memories of Jimmy Cagney's bantam-rooster interpretation in the 1935 film version. Gisela Chipe's lush baby-doll take on Hermia has a Betty Boop adorability, and Aled Davies' nobility as Oberon would ring true in any era. In the end, GLTF's Midsummer gives a pleasant Kool-Aid sensation to a work crafted to tickle like vintage champagne.

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More by Keith A. Joseph

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