TURLOCK — California State University, Stanislaus, seamlessly blends elements of different time periods and cultures in its outdoor staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Featuring a metallic industrial set, the production has humans wearing long dresses and suits from the early 20th century and the fairy king Oberon appearing in African tribal gear.
Director Jere O'Donnell's staging is certainly not traditional Shakespeare and it makes for quite a spectacle. The main problem is that it's often hard to understand the dialogue. Microphones go in and out, and background music sometimes overpowers the speakers.
Still, there's lots to enjoy even if you miss some of the lines. It's fun to watch the fairies playing tricks on the humans and casting magical spells to make them fall in love with each other.
The performers' antics even managed to keep the attention of a 5-year-old who attended with me — at least most of the time.
The free production, which runs at the amphitheater through Sunday, is drawing huge crowds. About 500 attended the first performance and more than 1,000 turned out for Thursday's show. That's far more than typically attend student shows and is especially gratifying when you consider all the other entertainment options people have these days.
Craig Tyhurst is hilarious as Bottom, an overconfident actor who is turned into a donkey by the fairy king. The scenes where he is seduced by the fairy queen Titania are among the funniest in the play.
Stefanie Baker, who plays Titania, and Ochuko Egbikuadje, who plays Oberon, are imposing figures and are easily believable as powerful sorcerers.
Kimi Helm darts back and forth across the stage mischievously as Puck, Oberon's henchman.
Costume designer Caroline Mercier outfits all the fairies in striking white costumes with long white wigs, giving the queen some gorgeous, gigantic angel wings.
Eric Broadwater's multilevel set, with a staircase, provides lots of places for the fairies to hide, but it seems strange that Titania's bedroom is in a cage. It's amazing how well lighting designer Clay Everett is able to transform the industrial set into a forest with a few well-placed shadows of trees.
With no admission, this is a great way for people to enjoy entertainment with their whole family. CSU Stanislaus has provided ample concessions, including wine, and is encouraging people to bring their own picnics. A word of advice if you attend — don't forget to bring a coat. It gets quite cool once the sun goes down.