Sweet "Dreams"

Best of Broadway stages Shakespeare by way of South Asia
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Photo by Tristram Kenton

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Words, words, words. You've probably noticed how Shakespeare's plays are full of them. They skip or loll on the tongue; they tickle or bemuse the ear. Sometimes, and not just for the uninitiated or casually acquainted, they come across with more music than meaning. Well, that "Shakespeherian Rag" goes raga in the international production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, now taking its San Francisco bow at the Curran Theatre, where among a cast of exclusively Indian and Sri Lankan actors, Elizabethan English vies with seven languages of the subcontinent.

The words, for a change, are therefore not the most important feature of this production — unless you happen to speak one or more of the Indian and Sri Lankan languages on display, which judging by the pockets of laughter that arose at certain moments, some in the opening-night audience clearly did. This incredibly agile, imaginative, and widely praised 2005-6 production, led by UK director Tim Supple (and making its North American debut courtesy of Best of Broadway), foregrounds the play's action, passion, physical humor, and erotic energy to such a striking degree that it reminds one persuasively of the full scope of Shakespeare's potency as a dramatist. And the dialogue — if you don't speak Hindi, for example — still reveals a surprising dramatic and melodic force all the same.

The words also give a thrilling sense of the vast treasure of cultural and linguistic tradition emanating from the subcontinent. At the same time, this is no museum piece; it is a vital blending of theatrical traditions and ideas. The amazingly athletic, even acrobatic cast effortlessly incorporates everything from traditional song and martial dance to Cirquelike aerial work into the enchanted forest–realm of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare's multilayered story of love's fickle and darker aspects. As the production's lone Brit, Supple's staging is highly original. At the same time, it recalls the use of vertical space in Peter Brook's legendary 1970 staging. The backdrop is a bamboo scaffold many meters high, initially covered over in a great wavy, ruffled sheet of thick paper that beautifully absorbs and deflects Zuleikha Chaudhari's rich lighting. Performers come bursting, crawling, and tumbling through this membrane until it's a mess of tatters.

The acting is physically and emotionally strong. Joy Fernandes, for instance, delivers a particularly memorable turn as the hilariously irrepressible Bottom. Meanwhile, the musicians to the sides of the stage left and right further refine the dazzlingly dynamic action with delicate metallic strains, sweet guitar melodies, or the crashing punctuation of a massive percussion kit.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

Through June 1

Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 2 p.m., $35–$80

Curran Theatre

445 Geary, SF

(415) 512-7770, www.shnsf.com

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