The College of St. Scholastica's theater department is hoping a new high tech light system with doubled capacity and great sound design will match up with William Shakespeare for a great drama experience. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opens Friday, March 28, at St. Scholastica's beefed up theater.

Though she wasn't giving away many of the surprises, Director Merry Renn Vaughan offered a hint at the opening. "My goal is to engulf the audience in the forest," she said.

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"A Midsummer Night's Dream," one of Shakespeare's lighter comedies, lends itself to such treatment. In 1999, when a Duluth effort at a Shakespeare Festival in Leif Erikson Park was just getting started, Canada-based Repercussion Theatre brought a sound-and-light-laden production of the play to the park.

And it's easy to see why. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the story of a quartet of young lovers who wander into the forest and, unwittingly, become entangled in a feud between a fairy king and queen, and the subject of supernatural pranksters, including Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, one of Shakespeare's memorable characters.

The high production value turns up frequently. Costumes for the numerous fairies in the play were custom made. "There's just color everywhere with the fairies," Renn Vaughan said.

One of the actors, St. Scholastica freshman Lauren Brant, playing one of the lovers Helena, is in her third college production already. She is also impressed with the production.

"I've never seen a set like this," she said. "It's cool to be a part of this." She noted that the production made the actors want to step it up a notch to make their performing live up to the sensory presentation.

Another St. Scholastica freshman, Matt Erjavec, is playing the prankster Puck in his very first college production. Erjavec also works on the theater crew, so he sees both sides and says it not only gives him additional insight into the process but also "a lot higher sense of accomplishment."

Even the cast is uniquely large. The 26 actors make up the "largest cast in CSS history that anyone here now can remember," Renn Vaughan said.

It has also been a unique production in other ways, starting with the untimely death of Renn Vaughan's mentor but culminating in a remarkably smooth process despite car accidents and all the different elements of the show.

But for all that, she says her approach is mostly straight Shakespeare. The only major changes were some cuts, to the parts people don't like anyway.

"We cut up part of the royal stuff," she said, indicating sort of the device Shakespeare used to set up the four lovers' entry into the forest. "That's not why people come to the show."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" was initially considered one of Shakespeare's more trivial plays, but critics have gradually warmed to it, and audiences like it.

"I think it has grown with the modern audience because it's so easy to understand," Renn Vaughan said. One needn't "get" Shakespeare to enjoy this play.

Even directors are smitten with it.

"This is my favorite Shakespeare, (and) a lot of the cast's favorite Shakespeare," Renn Vaughan said.

At first glance, it might seem like the story of starry-eyed love is a perfect fit for a college-aged cast, but Renn Vaughan disagrees with that idea. They are a little too mature.

"I honestly think that they're in some way too old," she said, noting that early on the actors tended to make the characters too dramatic -- instead, they're mostly just juvenile.

Brant has that down. She described her character this way: "She's just a teenage girl. Nobody loves her."

And when the chance to control the situation falls into her lap? "When the opportunity presents itself, she'll take advantage of it," Brant said.

Puck, who gets the delightfully memorable last lines of the play, has no such issues. Erjavec's instructions were to "go out there and cause as much trouble as I can," he says.

He gets to work directly with the effects. And it all suits him fine.

"I always like to have fun," he said. "I like to put a smile on and go for the laugh."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs March 28-30 and April 4-6 and 11-13. Friday and Saturday shows start at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $8 general admission, $5 seniors and students with ID and $3 for St. Scholastica students with ID. Tickets are available through the St. Scholastica box office, 733-5900 or 1200 Kenwood Ave. On Sunday, March 30, a special buy-one-get-one-free offer is in force.

Kyle Eller is features editor for the Budgeteer News. Reach him at kyle.eller@duluth.com or 723-1207.

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