Laissez les bons temps rouler
Her dad insists that Hermia marry Demetrius, but Helene is in love with Demetrius, and Hermia and Lysander are in love with one another. So what’s confusing about that? And so begins A Cajun Midsummer Night’s Dream, Clay David’s adaptation of The Bard’s most endearing comedy. It provides a hilarious night of laugh filled entertainment – a real fais do-do, as they say down on the bayou.
Along the way, we meet “the mechanicals”, an acting troupe of craftsmen, rehearsing the play-within-the-play, about the deaths of lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. We also encounter a band of fairies led by Oberon. Motivated by punishing his wife, Titania, he unleashes Puck, who, when directed to sprinkle magic dust in the eyes of Lysander, mistakenly dusts Demetrius, leading to further complications among the lovers.
With a “A Cajun…Dream”, Clay David redefines the word auteur as an artistic visionary. Not only did this auteur adapt the script and direct, but he designed the set, makeup, and wigs, and jointly designed the sound and costumes. And the play is an homage to David’s own upbringing in Louisiana’s Cajun country.
The production is yet another illustration of how stage companies in the Bay Area often squeeze great production values out of limited resources. The Gothic bayou set with Spanish moss dripping from trees creates such an ambiance that you wouldn’t be surprised to see an alligator crawl across the stage. A deck in a tree allows extra vertical dimension to the action.
The costumery reflects the time of the action, which is 1958. And if you were alive back then, you will look at the tacky styles and patterns of the Athenian characters’ garb with a blend of amusement and embarrassment, recalling how you once looked. The fairies appear to have oozed from the black lagoon, almost as if each costume is another living botanical thing. And their faces are wonderfully painted providing concealment of the actor underneath. A final major contributor to the feel of the locale is the sound design, which is a full accompanying soundtrack. In addition to swamp sounds, a few country songs make an appearance, including a couple of fitting reprises from David’s earlier “Always, Patsy Cline” production at Altarena Theater.
A huge cast with many spoken parts inhabits the stage. The acting modality is energetic with high volume, movement, and emotion. Some characters are particularly well acted. As the oft-rejected Helene, Laine Flores excels, with great enthusiasm and expression – from dancing to dog impersonation. In a role generally associated as a younger man’s, Alison Sacha Ross as Puck slithers and chirps and causes a general ruckus. Similarly, Marilyn Hughes plays the male roles of Bottom and Pyramus, the lover role in the play-within-the-play. Her funniest turn is when Pyramus is transformed to an ass, and she sings “Walkin’ After Midnight” with a donkey’s head as a hat.
“A Cajun…Dream” is great fun for the aura that is created. You can almost see voodoo and taste jambalaya. It happily integrates a bit of Cajun patois with formal Shakespearian text in nice proportion. The major flaw derives from the expected difficulty comprehending some of the quickly-delivered, Southern-accented, Shakespeare-worded speech, compounded by the condensation of the story line. With four different sub-plots, each having its own complications, the original is hard enough to follow, and this one is much more so.
A Cajun Midsummer NIght’s Dream plays at Novato Playhouse, 5420 Nave Dr., Novato, through February 21.