Best of Puck 

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a fun patchwork of slapstick and spoofs.

This clever idea becomes even better when similar drumming accompanies the appearance of the fairies; Shakespeare’s supernatural magic takes on a voodoo flavor. There’s even a touch of the witch doctor in Oberon’s mask and robes.

Contemporary productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” often portray the fairies with more complicated motives than good-natured mischief. So a touch of black magic is a charming way of exploring the undercurrents of the bard’s flights of fancy. The idea is so potent that it might be fun to dedicate an entire production to the concept.

But that’s not what we have in this show. Instead, Encore! Theatre Company’s Grant Mudge directs the show as a lighthearted amalgam of pop culture, spoofs of popular songs and wisecracking slapstick humor. It’s all about mood and the exploration of two of Shakespeare’s favorite themes: the irrationality of love and the meaningfulness of creative imagination.

The story begins before the marriage of Duke Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Hermia (Cynde Liffick) loves Lysander (d. l. hopkins). Egeus (Frank Creasy), Hermia’s father, instead wants her hitched to Demetrius (Brandon Ketchum). If she doesn’t marry Demetrius, Hermia must choose between a life of celibacy or death. Evading the choice, she plans to run away with Lysander. At the same time, Helena (Tanya Tatum) secretly pines away for Demetrius.

In the forest, the king and queen of the fairies are up to no good. Oberon (hopkins), irritated with Titania (Liffick), orders Puck (Tatum) to fetch a certain flower. The juice of the flower, when applied to the eyes, causes the victim to fall in love with the next person the victim sees. In time, all romantic lines of pursuit are scrambled by drops of the flower.

Meanwhile, a group of hillbilly workmen are rehearsing a play in another part of the forest. They hope to perform the play at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Puck transforms the most arrogant of their number, Bottom (Ketchum), into a donkey-person. Under the influence of the magic flower, Titania falls in love with him.

Everything gets straightened out in due course. And the workmen get to perform their play at the wedding. The play-within-a-play is performed with expert awkwardness by the cast. My favorite part is the children’s rake attached to Bottom’s helmet. It creates a Marvin the Martian effect that tells us everything we need to know about the workmen thespians.

Tanya Tatum takes the performing honors for the evening. Not only does she have an engaging stage presence, she delivers her lines with an impeccable Shakespearean rhythm. And she seamlessly switches multiple roles within the show. She’s endearing as Helena, a woman who unexpectedly draws the affections of both Demetrius and Lysander. As Puck, she wears a crazy-quilt jacket that at first seems inappropriate for the role. But like the show itself, the mismatched pieces are stitched together to make something silly and fun. S

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” continues through July 3 at Agecroft Hall. Tickets cost $19, call (866) 227-3849.

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