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A Cajun Midsummer Night's Dream at NTC Playhouse, Novato CA


A Cajun Midsummer Night’s Dream
at NTC Playhouse, Novato CA

Marilyn Hughes, Sumi Narendran

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo. Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Photos by Jim Norenna, ACT OUT Photography

Mystical, Magical Cajun “Dream”

A refreshingly original adaptation of Shakespeare‘s screwball fantasy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes the stage at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse. It was adapted and directed with a piquant Cajun flavor by Clay David, a Louisiana native who also has a hand in the unique costume design and the colorful set that’s a dead ringer for a swampy woodland just dripping with moss. He moves the setting from ancient Greece to 1950s Bayou country and uses a diverse cast to represent the Bard‘s world of Athenian lovers, triple weddings, wayward daughters and impish fairies who cast spells and fall in love with long-eared beasts. And then there’s that play-within-a-play to lend even more twists and turns to the delightfully labyrinthine plot.

This “Dream” is a jubilant celebration of lively staging. There‘s never a dull moment, with novel delivery of dialogue, repeating of lines like a Greek chorus in places, and interesting use of inflection and pacing. The fairy folk are steeped in a voodoo magic that permeates the show like fragrant spice (and their costumes are to die for). Among the mere mortals, great period touches include 1950s dance steps, funky choreography and wonderful music by the Cajun and Bayou Ensemble. There’s great renditions of “Crazy”, the Willie Nelson song made famous by Patsy Cline, and another of her standards “Walkin’ After Midnight”, to name just two memorable numbers.

Hermia (Arden Kilzer) is the Sugarcane Queen, pledged to Demetrius (Johnny Manibusan) but madly in love with Lysander (Mark Ian Schwartz, channeling Elvis). Kilzer is perfect in the role, a Southern belle with a patrician air. Schwartz is too cool for school with his rock-star vibe, clarity of diction and fluid movements. Manibusan got off to a slow start but found his energetic groove. Helena (Laine Flores) pines for Demetrius, who finds her repulsive. Flores plays her Helena as earthy, klutzy and adorable, precise in her delivery and performance.

Mystical, Magical Cajun “Dream”

Fairy queen Titania (a stunning Sumi Narendran) and her king, Oberon (a riveting Michael Walraven), practically steal the show. Narendran is majestic and commands your full attention whenever she’s onstage. Walraven, with his otherworldly Caribbean accent, is like a Shakespearean Obeah man.

Alison Sacha Ross as Puck doesn’t seem much like a “shrewd and knavish sprite”. Hers is, for the most part, a curiously languid interpretation. Marilyn Hughes’ performance as “Nicole” Bottom is good but loses focus in places. Sam Ethan Rubin as Flute is actually more Puckish than Puck, very animated in his small role.

Cajun Midsummer cat fight

As a whole, the cast delivers good, though uneven, performances. Imagination, charm and high energy sustain the play, even through some challenging spots. The cadence of Bayou language, merged as it is with the rhythmic prose of Shakespeare, appears to be difficult for some performers. Shakespeare is hard enough for some to understand, but with Cajun-French accents, the meaning is lost in a few scenes. And could the little child-fairies who sit around the stage, staring with big eyes, possibly be put to better use?

Clay David, the gifted artistic director of the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda, does an exceptional job with very crafty direction, staging and blocking. He moves the cast well and in a very inventive way, using creativity in his scene structure and scenic design. His vision shines through in design for costume, set and sound, diffusing the mystique and appeal of the Acadian Bayou culture over all. Despite its few shortcomings, this Cajun “Dream” is filled with surprises and tastier than a mess of crawdads.

Now through February 21, 2016

8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

2:00 p.m. Sundays 

Tickets: $12 to $27

NTC Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA