THEATER REVIEW : Oddly Staged 'Dream' Delivers on Bard's Text : While the British-India setting doesn't quite work in this production, the show is smooth and quick-paced.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robert Koehler writes frequently about theater for The Times.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," that great Shakespearean plaything directors toy with to the ends of their imaginations, could be set on Pluto. At the Lionstar Theatre, director Rajan Dosaj sets it in British-controlled India, where Rudyard Kipling meets the Hindu gods.

"Dream" is a natural for this, especially since severe British pomp rubbed up against Indian mysticism almost daily during the colonial era. Dosaj, of Indian descent, understands this well, which lends this particular director's concept some extra heft.

Two elements, though, bedevil the concept. One is budgetary: Carl J. Pfeifer's affordable-looking set of portable curtains and backdrop of fairy-tale green woods doesn't remotely suggest the richness of India. The other is casting: While the fairy world ruled by Oberon and Titania (Pfeifer and Nora Linden) is populated with Indian creations, the courtly world ruled by Theseus (Archie Lee Simpson) has no connection to India. In fact, Theseus' bride-to-be, Hippolyta (Rocky Lane) is dressed by costumer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg as a Japanese geisha.

This is the only oddity in Schoenberg's otherwise superb array of stage wear, but all of it raises questions about whether the British-Indian concept was worth doing in the first place. Such a good idea needs to be pushed to the max or not taken up at all. This "Dream" tends to be too fainthearted.

But it is very well-spoken. Dosaj and Pfeifer, co-artistic directors of Excalibur Theatre Company, have recruited classically trained actors who are also skilled physical comics. Although the usual knockabout acrobatics of the quarreling lovers is kept on a leash here, Dosaj's Lysander, Doug Rynerson's Demetrius, Zoe Benston's Helena and Jane Longenecker's Hermia create some funny fireworks. John Serembe's Bottom is a wonderful case of a good actor caustically lampooning bad acting.

Pfeifer is a full-bodied, comically pompous Oberon--Big Man in the Forest, and prime for taking a fall. He finds his match in Linden's strong, sensual Titania, whose seduction of Bottom-as-a-donkey gets the children in the audience laughing. Tim Storms, who isn't the funniest or the pixiest Puck, is geared less for kids and more for adults: He's a fairy assistant who feels overworked, under-acknowledged and rather cynical about human beings.

Even with a concept that doesn't deliver the whole goods, and even with an obviously constrained physical production, this is a smooth, quick-paced "Dream" that takes nothing seriously--except the art of delivering the text.


WHERE AND WHEN What: "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Location: Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays. 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 9.

Price: $8 to $12.

Call: (818) 761-0312.

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