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A Midsummer Night’s Laugh Fest

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Who said, “From the first, it has been theater’s business to entertain people . . . it needs no other passport than fun, but this it has got to have”?

It was that hard-nosed alienist, Bertolt Brecht. Well, Brecht would have laughed his cutting-edge head off if he had seen what Troubadour Theater Company does with Shakespeare.

“A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream” is its fifth lampoon to premier at the Grove Theater Center’s Festival Amphitheater in Garden Grove, beginning with “Spamlet” and including last summer’s “Twelfth Dog Night.”

For those who are old enough to remember Olsen and Johnson’s “Hellzapoppin,” or seen the movie, this will revive fond memories. The same total disregard for decorum reigns freely in Troubadour’s current effort, along with hilarious ad-libs and outrageous physical humor.

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For some of the gags it helps to be familiar with the Bard’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but it isn’t an obligation. What’s left of Shakespeare is self-explanatory, the madcap tale of four star-crossed lovers set upon in a wood by avenging fairies and a giddy sprite named Puck. Puck’s romantic serum causes most of the havoc, but what Puck doesn’t muck up Troubadour manages to.

Along with the main show, accompanying the madness is a sharp musical trio (David Barker, Kevin Robertson, Mike Morris) and a buxom diva with a trumpet of a voice (Lisa Valenzuela), who also is a virtuoso on the slide whistle. The aura is the ‘70s disco sound, which culminates in a free-for-all dance, including the audience, during which the group’s conceptual leader Matt Walker can be heard shouting, “Let’s dance down Main Street!” Garden Grove would never be the same if they did.

It’s Walker’s basic insanity that sets the mood for these rambles, but the company has a heavy hand is the goings-on. The ad-libs are free and always very funny, and to mention any of them would be to tell the audience about something that may never happen again.

The costuming is eclectic, the uncredited choreography (probably by Walker) is clever and inventive, and the humor is delectable, ranging from basic burlesque to high farce.

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As in any company of size, some of the performances stand out sharply. Walker almost steals the show as Puck and the officious Quince of the group of dummies who put on the play-within-a-play at the end. Walker’s originality seems endless and his bubbling sense of humor pervades the evening.

What’s left of the show is stolen by Troubadour regular Rick Batalla as Bottom, who turns into an ass under Puck’s hex. Batalla’s sharp mind works wonders with quick responses to any stumble in the script.

The four young lovers are also a joy: Beth Kennedy as Helena; Jennifer Jean as Hermia; Tim Groff as Demetrius; and Ben Livingston as Lysander (Livingston’s costume as the Rainbow Fairy is worth the price of admission). Their frequent switches into other personas has the twinkle of forest frolic.

This edition of Troubadour’s butchery of the Shakespearean canon is one of its better efforts, right alongside “Spamlet.” If you have forgotten how to laugh, Troubadour will remind you.

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“A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream,” Festival Amphitheater, Grove Theater Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Friday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Ends Saturday. At Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton, beginning Aug. 18. Friday and Saturday, 8:15 p.m. Ends Aug. 26. $24.50 (dinner option included for additional $14). (714) 741-9555. Running time: 2 hours.


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