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A Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first offering in this year's Colorado Shakespeare Festival, has many strengths. When did you last even notice who played First Fairy? Or Peter Quince? When the former is Nicole Bruce and the latter Greg West, you notice and remember. And all of the other performers provide moments of insight and pure delight. The wonderful thing is that while the people on stage are clearly enjoying themselves, nobody's self-absorbed, hamming it up or stepping on anyone else's toes, thanks to director Geoffrey Kent's terrific structure and pacing. Kent's approach to Shakespeare is respectfully disrespectful. He lets his actors improvise comic bits and mess with the text, as when Puck — who sports vivid new accoutrements almost every time he appears — asks an audience member if she likes his hat. But while there are all kinds of silly bits of business, the goofing never gets in the way of the dialogue. You can understand exactly what's being said and what each character is feeling, even as the four young lovers scream insults at each other and launch physical attacks. This Dream

is set in the 1920s. Director Geoffrey Kent chose the period because women were testing limits then and demanding their rights. So this Hermia (forbidden by her father to wed Lysander) and Helena (in love with Demetrius, who loves Hermia) are both as strong-willed as they are ridiculous in their moony-eyed search for love. Titania is pretty tough, too. Even as she squabbles with her king, Oberon, and makes a swoony ass of herself over Bottom, she's as secure in her right to rule the universe — or at least the English countryside — as the Queen of England herself, whether Victoria or (either) Elizabeth. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 8, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed June 12.

Dust Storm: Art and Survival in a Time of Paranoia. In February 1941, some two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which caused the internment of many Japanese people living on the West Coast in dismal, isolated and primitive camps. They lost their homes, farms and everything they had worked for. Perhaps even more important, they lost their sense of place, citizenship and identity. Rick Foster's one-man play imagines the experience through the eyes of Seiji, a sullen, angry teenager who's none too fond of those he calls the "white skins" even before his ordeal begins. Seiji describes the long, agonizingly slow journey to Topaz (the camp in Utah where his family was sent), his own fury, and the bone-deep fatigue of the old people. The place, he says, was gray and dead; the temperature reached 110 degrees. And yet when you're dealing with the Japanese, he explains, "if there's dirt, there will soon be a garden." The internees planted trees and began raising hogs, turkeys and chickens. As time passes, Seiji begins to feel a muted optimism. But when his hopes of eventually going to college are dashed, he joins forces with a violent, pro-Japanese group of teens in the camp. Chiura Obata, a well-known and widely exhibited Japanese artist, was actually interned at Topaz; he chronicled daily life there in a series of luminous and eloquent sketches and paintings, and also set up an art school for his fellow internees. A key element in this small, glowing production by Theatre Esprit Asia, the first Asian-American company in the Rocky Mountain region, is an easel showing slides of Obata's work — work that underlines or illustrates Seiji's observations, deepens them or creates a quiet counterpoint. Old people play a profound if silent role in Dust Storm, whether waiting patiently in the hot sun, confused and only half-aware of what has happened to them, or cultivating their gardens; one of Obata's most upsetting paintings shows an old man slumping across a fence, a dog on the other side that he's apparently been trying to retrieve nosing at his fingers. The man has been shot in the back. A little later, a photograph of Obata himself appears on the easel, his expression benign, his eyes gently penetrating — and you can't help thinking that Seiji has finally found both his moorings and the spiritual father he so desperately needed.

 
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