THEATER REVIEW : Relax for a Spell With a 'Midsummer' Treat : Start brushing up on Shakespeare with a production that is entertaining, imaginative and accessible.


Embarking on a series of planned admission-free productions, Simi Valley's A.R.T.S. theater company is currently presenting that old reliable, "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

If you, or your children, have never seen Shakespeare performed live, this is a terrific start. Not only is the show broadly funny and relatively easy to follow, this production is notably brief--less than two hours, including intermission. So, while the very young probably won't appreciate it, nobody else is likely to get especially antsy.

This is the play, remember, in which fairy king Oberon persuades the imp Puck to cast a spell in which Oberon's wife, Titania, falls in love with the first person she sees upon awakening. That turns out to be Bottom, a low-born actor whom Puck has given the head of a donkey. Puck also gives a dose of the magic potion to two young men, Lysander and Demetrius, causing them to lust after each other's fiancees, much to the women's confusion and distress. High-jinks ensue.

The show is imaginatively directed by Irene Silbert, and, for the most part, the acting ranges from adequate to quite good.

Such is the breadth and depth of the Simi Valley talent pool (or so indecisive is the director) that several parts here have been double- or triple-cast, so who plays what varies from night to night. Don't count on the printed program to indicate who's appearing as whom at a given performance.

For instance, Toni Beery, who gave a characteristically (for her) dizzy spin to distressed and confused young lover Helena during the opening weekend, is off to study drama in London. Henceforth, the part will be played by Janeece Flint. Of the three actresses listed as alternates for Amazon queen Hippolyta, none played the part at Friday's opening. Instead, she was played without announcement by Shelly Mazer, who on other nights is scheduled to double other roles. With so many actors looking for something to do, director Silbert has nevertheless cast herself in the (male) role of Quince, leader of the troupe of actors, evidently alternating in the role with Hallie Kemper.

At Friday's performance, the wandering actors were played with great flair by Silbert, Lee Altmar, Philippe Fanjeaud, Joel Uyeda and Ron Rosen, who may or not be in those parts when you see the show. Andre Hotchko and Geoffrey Murtch played Lysander and Demetrius, James Egan and Jan Glasband were Oberon and Titania, and Puck was an assured performance by 13-year-old Jenny Cariker. All are scheduled to continue in those roles throughout the run, and there's a large and rather unwieldy chorus of youthful fairies.

The confusion among players notwithstanding, the audience should have a good time at this highly recommended show. And if you don't like it, you can always ask for your money back.

(A.R.T.S., incidentally, stands for Actors' Repertory Theatre of Simi, though we suspect that they devised the acronym and then came up with something for it to stand for.)


* WHAT: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

* WHEN: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sunday at 7 through July 17.

* WHERE: Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3190 Cochran Ave.

* COST: Free, first-come, first-served

* FYI: For further information, call 522-5501. This show will also be performed at the Ranch Simi Park Amphitheater at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 24.

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