Subterranean Shakespeare opened a striking and effective sex, drugs and rock and roll take on Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Friday at La Val’s Subterranean on the Northside.
This modern dress version of the classic romantic comedy is set initially at a trendy club in a present-day city, and later at a drug-fueled all-night rave in the woods where reality and fantasy mix, and things spin out of control.
This concept works very well with “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” bringing the play alive in surprising new ways, and opening up Shakespeare’s poetry for a contemporary, youthful audience.
The way Shakespeare put his play down on paper, four star-crossed lovers with frustrated romances sneak away from the court of Athens and go into the woods.
There, the fairy prankster Puck and his cohorts play tricks on them, and they have many comic misadventures, until things finally get sorted out.
At the same time, Bottom the weaver and his friends are rehearsing a play in the woods, which they ultimately perform at a wedding where everything ends happily.
In the current Sub Shakes staging, the four bickering lovers are patrons of a modern-day, trendy, upscale club. Bottom and his friends are waiters and staff at the club’s posh restaurant.
When the four lovers flee the club for the woods to sort out their romantic tangles, the fairies in the woods turn it into an all night rave party, featuring sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Director Yoni Barkan has orchestrated this inspired chaos on La Val’s small stage in a fast-moving and music-intense production. Many in the youthful cast of 13 double in multiple roles.
The bickering is funny among the four confused lovers – Kira Blaskovich, Pete Caslavka, Heather Charles, and Alan Coyne – each lusting after someone else.
Nicole Du Port makes an impression as cocaine-snorting Puck. Ryan Meyer steals some scenes as Bottom the Weaver, trying to play all the roles simultaneously in his friend’s play.
Several actors speak their Shakespeare with a forced imitation of a British accent. This is not necessary, and the best American productions of Shakespeare don’t do it.
Imitative accents make productions of Shakespeare sound stagy and artificial, and give them a museum quality, which contradicts so much of what this production has done right in opening it up for a modern day, young Berkeley audience.
In La Val’s limited space, Irina Mikhalevich has effectively designed a mostly black set with a few touches of red, and a single small video monitor downstage right running a light show.
Composer Andy Bundy has written original club dance music, and with lyricist Blaskovich an opening ballad dealing with the play’s themes, effectively sung by Blaskovich as a smoky cabaret number.
This song also gets a satirical reprise at the end in a drag version by Chris De La Vega.
In addition to Bundy’s music, sound designer Barkan has included classics by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and others.
The light cues during Saturday’s performance were a little funky. This is La Val’s, so sometimes you hear noise from the restaurant upstairs during the show. On the other hand, you can drink beer while you watch the play.
This sultry adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” turns Shakespeare’s play into a sex, drugs and rock and roll extravaganza, opening up the story for a modern-day audience. It is a fun production, and the price is right.
Subterranean Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., through July 8, at La Val’s, 1834 Euclid Ave. Tickets are $10 (general) and $6 (students). For