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MJC’s disco-infused production can’t capture ‘Midsummer’ magic

If Andy Warhol directed a play at Studio 54 in the 1970s, the result might have looked like Modesto Junior College's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Director Michael Lynch's psychedelic Shakespeare production features a kaleidoscope of colors and flashing lights set to an occasional thumping disco beat.

It's an interesting idea, but it doesn't quite work, in part because of the unskillful use of disco music. It's shoehorned in at odd moments whether it fits or not. Some of the musical interludes go on way too long and bring the production to a standstill.

There's also the problem of uneven acting, a common concern for a college production. While some of the students show confidence and flair, others have a hard time making the archaic language come alive.

Still, there's no denying the show looks gorgeous thanks to the work of scenic designer Ty Van Helton, costume designer Anne Shanto and lighting designer Kevin Saunders. The magical forest includes rolling hills, tall trees and an ingenious mechanical flower bed that can open and close its petals. The fairies wear neon outfits with sparkling lights on their wings.

One of the Bard's most popular works, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a light comedy filled with magic. A love potion causes both fairies and humans to fall in love with inappropriate partners, but everything is resolved for the best in the end.

Anemone Jones gives the best performance of the cast as the hapless Helena, who is rejected by Demetrius, the man of her dreams. She is sweet and sympathetic and speaks Shakespeare's challenging dialogue so comfortably, you'd think that's how she speaks every day.

Steven Linhares also makes a strong showing as Lysander, who is in love with Helena's rival Hermia. He speaks with passion and conviction.

Drop-dead beautiful Lindsay Pearce is feisty as Hermia, while Daniel Caulkins is gruff as Demetrius.

Nidal C. Bukhari has fun being pompous as the conceited actor Nick Bottom, who is magically transformed into a donkey.

Jamie Hudson is proud and regal as fairy queen Titania, who is bewitched into falling in love with him.

At Saturday night's performance, handsome and charismatic Tyrus Loveless was sluggish as fairy king Oberon. He talked so slowly, it seemed he was sleepy. Ariel Hicks, who plays Puck, had the opposite problem. She was bursting with energy but was hard to understand at times because she spoke too quickly and ran her words together.

MJC is not unusual in putting a different spin on Shakespeare. Few productions around here are set in traditional Renaissance style. In recent years, local theater companies have set the Bard in hippie San Francisco, 1950s Italy, a modern-day trailer park and most recently 19th-century New Orleans.

If this one doesn't work as well, that's OK. It's still nice to see the college stretching and trying out creative ideas.

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