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Diablo Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

The delightful Livermore Shakespeare Festival pairs The Bard's most beloved comedy with Concannon wine.

The Mechanicals, with Matthew Ballin as Bottom (left)

Unusual July rain clouds threatened the Livermore Shakespeare Festival at Concannon Vineyard last Saturday, and for a few minutes, drops did sprinkle down. But, they didn’t dampen the audience’s enthusiasm for the outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The 1883 Concannon family home, which was moved two years ago from a busy intersection to deeper within the estate, provided both a beautiful backdrop and a functional stage. The actors appeared on balconies and came in and out of doors. Before the opening scene, “The Mechanicals,” the group of Athenian craftsmen who stage a play within the play for the Duke of Athens, lounged on the front porch playing original music by Rob Evans (who plays tailor Robin Starveling).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works, a comedic tale of love and fairies and mistaken identity. In director Lisa A. Tromovitch’s hands, it is an appropriately lively, whimsical production with a strong cast of actors. Stealing the show was actor Matt Ballin, drama director at Fremont’s Washington High School, who plays weaver Nick Bottom. Even before he was given the head of a donkey and made the object of Titania’s misdirected affection—thanks to Oberon, King of the Fairies, and the mischievous Pucke—Bottom had the audience rolling with his wild eyes and stage-struck antics.

An 1883 Victorian sets the stagePucke, too, is a scene stealer, dressed as goofy as his personality with colorful dreadlocks, large aviator goggles, and a clock strapped to his bicep. Acted with infectious enthusiasm by James Hiser, Pucke often entered from behind the audience, playfully skipping through the aisles. Hermia, played by Elissa Beth Stebbins, is poised and graceful, despite being thrown around the stage in a few scenes (those falls looked painful—hoping that’s good acting!) And Helena, played by Elanor Mason Reinholdt, is an endearing romantic, her longing for Demetrius honest and heartfelt.

The second half was especially fast-paced and fun, with Pucke and Oberon removing their spells, The Mechanicals unveiling their bad play, a surprising and humorous “product placement” for sponsor Hawthorn Suites (for the “hawthorn brake”), and a lovely choreographed dance around the May Pole. However, Roaring ’20s costuming for the Athenians and Indian-inspired dancing for the fairies, while intriguing individual artistic choices, were an eclectic and sometimes perplexing mix.

Of course, one of the best things about the Livermore Shakespeare Festival is the vineyard setting. Guests enjoy pre-show picnicking with views of 200 acres of grape vines. Before the play and during intermission, Concannon pours their wines in the tasting room, and guests take the glasses to their seats to sip throughout the show.  It’s a perfect Tri-Valley summer tradition.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, July 9–August 9, Concannon Vineyard, 4590 Tesla Rd., Livermore, picnic area opens at 6 p.m., shows begin at 7:30, $5–$30, (925) 443-2273, livermoreshakes.org.
 

Posted at 02:43 PM - Jul 14, 2009 in Best Of Editor Picks | Permalink

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