Perhaps this will sound familiar to you: Among abandoned stone ruins in the Andes, a monkey discovers a bawling baby. The monkey gives the baby to a green lizard woman; the baby is instantly pacified. But a great bird man is upset by the baby's presence. He tries to pry the baby from the woman, fails, and leaves in a huff.
If you recognize that scene as a variation on the central dispute between Oberon and Titania, the fairy royalty in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," then you'll get along fine in "Bottom's Dream: The Midsummer Mambo," even if you aren't fluent in both English and Spanish. The bilingual show, the first professional production of the Educational Theatre Company (ETC) at the Rosslyn Spectrum, is a frisky little riff on a portion of Shakespeare's popular comedy. Gone are the four mortal lovers and the court that rules badly on their affairs. Instead, director Tom Mallan zeroes in on the fairies and the "mechanicals"--the rustic characters who farcically stage the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Mallan also zeroes in on language as a way to sharply illustrate the divide between the two distinct worlds in his show. The fairies, whose animal costumes (by Ivania Stack) suggest Incan gods, speak Spanish. The rustic theater troupe speaks Shakespeare's English with American accents; they appear to be traveling from North to South America, touring their little show.
In Shakespeare, the mechanicals run afoul of the fairies when the mischievous sprite Puck, acting on Oberon's instructions, casts a spell on Titania that makes her fall in love with the first thing she sees. That turns out to be Bottom, the gringos' lead player, whom Puck has turned into an ass. In Mallan's production, this is where the linguistic divide deliberately begins to break down. Puck speaks English for the first time just before he transforms Bottom, and shortly afterward Bottom the ass is speaking like this: "Yo quiero a handful or two of dried peas."
Lord knows how this plays if you've never encountered "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But if you have some familiarity with the play, knowing only one of this show's languages won't slow you down. The fairies are acted with earthy physicality; Daniel Hickman's agile Puck sometimes hangs upside down from set designer Nick Edwards's stone ruins, while Sean Mullan's Oberon menacingly spreads the wings of his costume and Menchu Esteban's Titania, lusting after Bottom, leads with her pelvis.
The mechanicals, led by John Bailey's pompous Bottom, are as broadly done (nuance is not on the menu here). Nearly all of the payoff comes during their climactic performance of Pyramus and Thisbe's tragic romance, which features a histrionic lament by Brian Donovan's Flute (as a linebacker-sized Thisbe) that is perversely loaded with body slams.
"Bottom's Dream" is a clever idea, modestly performed. Although it never approaches the giddy heights of Mallan's cha-cha-driven "Two Gentlemen of Verona" for the Washington Shakespeare Company a few seasons back, a festive spirit prevails. That's thanks in part to Mallan's sound design (which features several loopy mambo tracks by Yma Sumac) and choreography by Richard Dorton that even incorporates the dreaded Macarena. The 70 minutes fly by.
Bottom's Dream: The Midsummer Mambo. Adapted and directed by Tom Mallan. Lights, Marianne Meadows. With Roger Kraus, Claire Cherry and Amy Black. At the Rosslyn Spectrum through Oct. 16. Call 703-271-0222.
CAPTION: John Bailey (Bottom) and Menchu Esteban (Titania) in Tom Mallan's take on "A Midsummer Night's Dream."