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Pear Dreams

The Pear Avenue Theatre switches seasons for the holidays with Shakespeare

By Marianne Messina

AS MOST venues prepare their holiday-themed spectacles, the Pear Avenue Theatre gambles not only in bringing out Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (just before winter solstice) but also in completely rearranging its theater space to do it. The tiered seating has been taken out to make steps a king can proclaim from; the lighting has been rehung; the floor space has been expanded. At a recent production, the action overtook the audience and spilled into every cranny.

This vivid environment brings piercing clarity to Puck's final "You have but slumbered here" speech. An audience not 10 feet away from him on three sides can't help but realize their collusion as voyeurs and willing dreamers in the theatrical suspension of disbelief. But after fashioning these rather large ambient shoes to fill, the company showed some hesitation to step boldly into them at this performance. In the opening scene, the actors seemed intimidated by both the encroaching audience and that nasty taskmaster Shakespeare—lovers appeared stiff; hands and bodies appeared disconnected from talking heads. Maybe the interstitial Vivaldi music should have accompanied them through this scene, because once the comic characters, a ragbag troupe of overwrought actors ("a crew of patches"), stumble into the midsummer woods, the performance picks up and takes on a crisp surety.

As the play's four couples struggle with the shapes and workings of love—aided (or hindered) by a little fairy magic—the Pear's veteran performers take command of the language and bring fresh interpretations to their well-known characters. Diane Tasca (Hippolyta/Titania) makes her fairy queen Titania slitheringly sensual in sultry red gown and sparkling hair garland (costume design by Patricia Tyler). Mark D. Messersmith's Oberon (Titania's jealous fairy mate) is one of the most likeable I've seen, less haughty or aristocratic, more the man in love who often wishes he could be a better man (or fairy). When Oberon says, "I do begin to pity" (his wife, for the foul trick he's played on her), we see a man who, having surfeited on vengeance, finds it distasteful.

Patricia Tyler, as Oberon's fairy servant, plays a kind of self-doubting Puck. Often made out to be a sly, scheming trickster who intends to have his fun, Oberon or no, Tyler's Puck is more like an uncertain child in the face of a parent (as in "This seems real funny to me, so why isn't Dad laughing?"). And Jimmy Gunn was born to play Bottom, from his waddle and his short, portly form to his very precise and illuminating command of Shakespeare's phrasing. In Gunn's hands, Bottom, the bad-actor-turned-ass who thinks himself great, does not need a supercilious air to get a laugh. This is a joyful Bottom, and yet terribly laughable. So when the bewitched Titania is slithering all over his furry ass—er, this furry ass—the bawdry isn't suggesting bestiality so much as a plushy fetish.

Scott Hartley does a great Snout with a voice like Gumby Goliath as he plays "the wall" (in the bad Pyramus and Thisby play by the bad actors). Short Bottom (playing Pyramus) stretches up to peek through the "chink" in the wall—Snout's "sinister" ear—while tall Flute (Ray Renati), playing Pyramus' lover, Thisby, struggles to see her lover through Snout's right ear. The height differential and resultant groping (flanked by Shakespeare's relentless puns) riddle this obscene three-way with sharp visual humor. The performance I attended had a 4-year-old in the audience who sat quite enthralled throughout. It's an accessible and entertaining Shakespeare with substantial moments of insight for the aficionado.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, a Pear production, plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Dec. 19 at the Pear, 1220 Pear Ave., Mountain View. Tickets are $10-$20. (650.254.1148)

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From the December 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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