It's midsummer, and that means it's time for half the theater companies in California to trot out Shakespeare.
In the Troubadour Theater Company's case, it's time for another Shakespeare parody. This year's offering (currently at the Grove Theatre Center's Festival Amphitheater but moving to the Muckenthaler Cultural Center next month) is titled A Midsummer Saturday Night's Fever Dream. Shakespeare's comedy of quarreling lovers has been chopped, sliced and trimmed and then thrown into a blender with disco songs mostly taken from a certain John Travolta movie. Add a minitrampoline, a live backing band, carefully timed "technical snafus," a crash mat, talented actors who aren't afraid to go out on a limb for a laugh, and a gold flag for those moments when they fail. Then pack in some puns, pratfalls, physical gags, political references, non sequiturs and the occasional anachronism, and you can see the stage is set for an evening of all-out comedy that walks the brink of anarchy while somehow holding its structure.
The great thing about this parody is that it clearly comes from a genuine reverence for the source material. This company could clearly pull off a great straight production if it wanted to, but this interpretation opens it up to a wider audience. It's a trick watching Matt Walker transform from Peter Quince to Puck with a tuck and nip of the costume; it's a treat to be let in on the joke of that change. It's delicious to remember that back in the day, all the actors in Shakespeare's company were double- and triple-cast. There are three layers of humor in one costume change!
With this much raw, exuberant energy and ad-libbing and the band throwing in rim shots, slide whistles and the occasional rendition of "Jive Talking," it would be easy to lose the point of the play and devolve into pure send-up. But the soul of Shakespeare's quarreling lovers, fairies and rude men still shines through.
This is not pure Shakespeare, not even Kenneth Branagh. Those who regard the Bard as holy, not to be interpreted, revised or rewritten, may turn up their noses in disgust at this production. Those unfamiliar with Shakespeare may walk away from this still unfamiliar with the characters' names, but they will understand the plot, and they will laugh. A lot. The world needs more such Shakespeare.
a midsummer Saturday night's fever at Grove Theater Center's Festival Amphitheater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 741-9555. Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. Through July 15. $18.50-$22.50. (The production moves to the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton, on Aug. 18.)