Ode to Midsummer Comedy

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Ode to Midsummer Comedy

I’m the cryer in the rehearsal room, without fail. Even early in the process, if the show has any moment that is poignant, grandly human, emotionally true, or beautifully poetic, there I am, sniffling and trying not to be noticed.

So it was a huge surprise that Midsummer made me cry during last week’s design run—but this time, with tears of absolute joy and hilarity. I had to fight to keep from snorting as tears rolled down my face, hoping nobody would look at me. In this case, I needn’t have worried—everyone else was dying with laughter, too. These actors not only get to play with one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies, they also have the craft—genius comic chemistry, a wide range of physical and vocal humor, and impeccable timing.

photo by Zhanara Baisalova

I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time; and the last time I watched it, they hadn’t even begun tech yet! For now, here’s a roundup of my favorite comic moments from each of the actors (and a little summary of who they play)… spoilers ahead!

Cast in the foreground, from left: Jerrie Johnson, Marcel Spears, Kevin Kemp, Anthony Fusco, and Annie Worden;
photo by Zhanara Baisalova

Anthony Fusco: One of the Bay Area’s beloved veterans, Anthony is often cast in solemn, fatherly roles, so it’s no surprise to see him play fatherly Egeus. But this red herring of a role quickly gives way to the comedy gold of his beleaguered amateur director Quince. Upstaged by the overly enthusiastic Bottom, Quince’s control is a moving target, at best, but he lifts up the unskilled and channels the energy of the willful—just like the best directors do. Also: look out for Anthony’s tuned-out-and-turned-on Fairy.

Jerrie Johnson: Jerrie joins us from A.C.T.’s recent graduating class, and her regal stature serves her well as both Queens in the show. It doesn’t take love potion to turn her silly, though, as she requests a lullaby from her subjects and snoozes like one of the Three Stooges. But of course when she turns her besotted gaze on Bottom, that’s when the real hilarity ensues… Love really does make fools of us all!

Kevin Kemp: As Demetrius, he’s both giver and receiver of unwanted love. He is equally love-lorn over Hermia (who doesn’t return his affection) and low-key terrified of Helena’s attention (which he has to literally push away at times). The physical necessity of the tug-of-war comes to a glorious head when he is also love-potioned and comes to shirtless fisticuffs with Lysander that somehow are both reluctant and enthusiastic.

Robyn Kerr: Robyn as Puck never walks anywhere when she can run, and never runs a straight line when she can run a spiral. She revels in wreaking havoc with her love potion, making mischief for Titania, confusing the lovers with each other (which one is Lysander, again…?), and generally making puppets of whoever she can. Any time Robyn is on stage, she’s a delight to watch, even if it does leave you breathless by proxy.

Dean Linnard: As the hapless Lysander, Dean uses his tall and lanky physicality to its full effect. He folds himself over to kiss Hermia, fearfully whispering to contrast wonderfully with her tiny-but-mighty loudness while also stretching himself out to challenge Demetrius chest to…lower chest. Once under the spell of the love-potion, he crawls over and around any obstacle to reach Helena while also serving as a tree for others to climb. Bonus: his Flute finds a very lovely moment in the Play Within that manages to bring both Juliet and Spaceballs to mind.

Rami Margron: We’re so lucky to have Rami (who moved to NYC a few years ago) back to the Bay Area for this show, playing both Kings in Midsummer. As Oberon, Rami’s “straight man” (an unglamorous but important role) to Puck’s chaos anchors the comedy throughout. As the blustery Theseus, it’s a treat to watch Rami quell like a threatened cartoon villian under Hippolyta’s stare early in the show.

Jenny Nelson: As Hermia, she is of course, little and fierce. But Jenny’s voice and physicality as she plays the reluctant and weepy Starveling just keeps getting funnier with every scene—somehow the whining doesn’t get monotonous. There’s a stand-out moment when she channels some of Hermia’s fierceness before fainting out cold. And keep an eye out for Jenny’s Hermia being stuck in an old-fashioned wrestling move your uncle (or someone uncle-ish) probably played on you as a kid.

Amber Chardae Robinson: Amber’s disgruntled Snout (SHE could play Pyramus, but noooo she has to be a WALL) brings to mind every kid actor I’ve ever had to tell “there are no small roles” to. She plays the thwarted introvert who could be a star to Bottom’s scene-stealer so well, and her asides were so well placed and hilarious I actually wonder which are hers and which are Shakespeare’s. Also: her Fairy counterpart takes her moment to shine during Titania’s lullaby. It had me DYING.

Marcel Spears: Marcel has mentioned being compared to Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson in interviews, and while I can see the reasoning, I also think Marcel could give Kenan a run for his money. His light-hearted yet overbearing Bottom is ready for anything— A.NY.THING. The lead in the Mechanicals’ play? You bet, and all of the other parts too! Turned into an ass? Of course. Kinky Fairy sex? OH YEAH. He’s a living embodiment of “Yes, and…” and it’s delightful to watch. He even provides his own soundtracks!

Annie Worden: As Helena, Annie brings her fearless physicality to channel Pepe le Pew, chasing Demetrius into the forest when she finds out he’s following Hermia and Lysander. When the tables turn thanks to love potion, she ducks and crawls through the ensuing lover’s chaos, alternately throwing both elbows, kisses, and verbal jabs. As Snug, her nervous and slow character’s Lion brought me to tears of laughter. I’ve been repeating “LION” for laughs for the past week—you will never see this character the same again!

I can’t wait to see this Midsummer fully staged at the Bruns (after a rough week of tech including an Atmospheric River or three). A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins performances Friday and runs through June 13, and you will not want to miss it! We all need a little more joy in our lives, no?

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