SF Weekly , April 6, 1997
Michael Scott Moore

Parking Shakespeare

Any theater troupe trying to do Shakespeare in the park has to risk being reduced by children, dogs, traffic, and wind to looking like a bunch of random weirdos mouthing archaic lines. The Shotgun Players have gotten around that problem, mostly, by choosing a play that lets them use puppets. Their version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a papier-mache fantasy of fairies that look like animals. The cast wears no costumes, so the opening scenes fall back on pure dialogue to introduce the story, which doesn't always translate in the park. While Hermia gets formally condemned to an unwanted marriage to Demetrius, and flees into the woods around Athens to elope with her lover, Lysander, the wind carries away some crucial lines, kids act restless, and a dog runs onto the stage.

But the show improves when the puppets come on. Oberon and Titania look like male and female cats, life-size puppets attached to Kevin Karrick and Karra Tsiaperas; the attending fairies are smaller animals, including a snouted rodent with horns and a bird in a livery costume; for some reason Puck looks like a boar, and maybe the best way to describe Peaseblossom is to say he doesn't look unlike a blue guinea pig with scales.

The heart of A Midsummer Night's Dream goes roughly like this: Puck has been ordered as a joke by the Fairy King Oberon to anoint his wife, Titania, with a potion that will make her fall in love with the first person she sees. Puck touches her with the potion and then changes the head of a stray actor named Bottom into the head of an ass, and lets Titania fall in love with him. Lysander and Demetrius, sleeping in the woods, also get touched by the potion, and fall in love with Demetrius' ex-girlfriend Helena. This is inconvenient for Hermia, who's trying to elope with Lysander.

The Shotgun Players are a young crew, so the show works best when they're playful. When Lysander and Hermia bed down for the night, Hermia pulls out a hair dryer but can't find a place in the forest to plug it in. When Helena and Hermia argue, Helena calls her rival a "puppet." Sometimes the actors overextend themselves to be heard, especially Marin Van Young, who forces her lines as Hermia. "Keep word, Lysander: We must starve our sight/ From lovers' food till morrow deep midnight" doesn't need to sound hysterical. When Hermia grows furious, though, Van Young is funny; she seems to enjoy beating up on people. Kevin Karrick, as Theseus and Oberon, has a good sense of the balanced, fairy tale-ish postures he needs as king; and Michael Storm is good in the same way, as Bottom, with a projecting voice that doesn't strain. Maybe the secret to A Midsummer Night's Dream is not to take it too seriously, and Karrick and Storm have the right self-detachment to make their performances dance.