The spirited Berkeley Shakespeare Company is producing its fourth production every weekend this month, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley and in the woodsy Kensington Community Center amphitheater.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical! is a contemporary adaptation of the Shakespeare play by Sonya Baehr, who also directed the production and wrote the book and lyrics with Thomas W. Jones, the composer. And although it’s shorter (less than two hours, no intermission), happily, Shakespeare’s interconnecting plots are still recognizable in Sonya Baehr’s adaptation. The songs, many of which are created from the Shakespearean text, are accompanied by a talented keyboardist and guitarist.
The comedy consists of five interconnecting plots about love and marriage linked by the wedding celebration of Duke Theseus of Athens (Izaak Heath) and the Amazon queen, Hippolyta (Jen Gallagher). The main plot involves two sets of couples — Hermia (Tina Traboulsi) and Lysander (Duy Truong), and Helena (Elana Swartz) and Demetrius (Christian Vaughn Munck). Their liaisons are muddled by the whims of the King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon (Izaak Heath) and Titania (Jen Gallagher), the magical antics of the interfering fairies, and their servant Puck (Teresita Brimms). A lot is happening in the complex plot, so brushing up on your Shakespeare before the performance may be helpful.
The highlight of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical! comes at its end when the local craftspeople put on a play to celebrate Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. They present the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, two star-crossed lovers who kill themselves when each thinks the other is dead. In this modern version, an aspiring amateur rock band performs a delightful rock opera. It would have been wonderful to see more of it. Zachary Vaughn Munck was terrific as Nick Bottom.
The hard work and love of theater this young company possesses is impressive. All the actors work for free and appear because they love acting and are gaining experience. Their hearts and souls are in the play, and it shows. There is variability and unevenness in the quality of acting and singing, and some of the actors are more experienced than others. But the production is well-paced and, overall, is good-humored, family-friendly entertainment. The woodsy outdoor setting adds to the good time.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical! is the Berkeley Shakespeare Company’s fourth play since its 2021 start. The group has previously performed Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing (2021), and Twelfth Night (2022). Their next play may be King Lear.
The Kensington amphitheater is just behind the Kensington Community Center. There is parking onsite, and seating is limited. It’s best to dress in layers and bring pillows, blankets or lawn chairs.
The performance is about an hour and three-quarters, with no intermission. Cookies and other goodies are available for a suggested donation. Tickets are $15-$20. For tickets and information, visit the Berkeley Shakespeare Company’s website.