A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Can Salt Lake’s Off Broadway Theatre, best known for loony parodies and improv comedy, earn respect as a venue for Shakespeare, too?

Probably not, but its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a fun, good-hearted attempt, anyway.

“Midsummer” — fast becoming the “Joseph” of Shakespeare, with a half-dozen or so Utah productions this year — is a whimsical, pointless comedy about love and fairies. It has a few key elements that make it an instant winner (e.g., men dressed as women), although it rarely makes its audience fall on the floor laughing.

As usual with this show, the last 20 minutes of Off Broadway’s production are the best, when a group of Athenian handymen-turned-thespians perform a hysterically funny play at the Duke’s wedding reception.

The star here is Dave Hunsaker as Bottom, whose prolonged death scene in the play-within-a-play is fantastic. One can see Hunsaker’s natural tendencies to improvise — urges which must be supressed if one is to stick to the Bard’s original words — coming to the surface as he uses a breadstick for a sword and stabs himself “gallantly for love” with it.

In fact, Hunsaker is just about the best thing in all of “Midsummer.” He’s a round, merry fellow, boasting and bragging like Bottom should, but in a way that is thoroughly endearing. His interaction with the fairies — all played by adorable young children — would bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Hermia (Amber Hutchings) and Helena (Melissa Porter), the two women in pursuit of love (i.e., men), spend most of their time crying, although Porter rises a little above the norm as a snappy, cynical Helena.

Robert Bogue plays both Duke Theseus and King Oberon surprisingly well. Both characters come across as authoritative, with Oberon appropriately flustered by Puck’s incompetence as a fairy prankster.

Ah, yes, Puck. In the grand tradition of “Peter Pan,” Puck is played by a woman in this production (Alexis Owen), instead of by a gay man, which is how it’s usually done. Owen gives the character a great deal of flair, gadding about the stage with energy and shrill zeal.

So who would enjoy this play? Casual Shakespeare fans, or people who aren’t big fans at all. Unlike some of that man’s plays, “Midsummer” is fairly easy to follow, and this production is certainly not a hoity-toity, theater-snob affair. Purists might be upset by the amount of material cut from the script, particularly in Acts IV and V, and by the haphazard way in which lines meant for one character have been re-assigned to another, in the interest of giving everyone equal stage time.

Some of the line-readings are just plain wrong, too, reminding us that Shakespearean acting is a different breed altogether, even when you’re trying to make it accessible to ordinary folks.

As a Shakespeare play, this one’s second-rate. But as an entertaining play that’s fun for the whole family, it’s hard to beat.

ans of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" will appreciate knowing that Puck in this show was a lot like Mr. B Natural. A lot like him (her).