A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Bailiwick Repertory. Heavy-handed and bewildering, Scott Cooper’s gender-altered adaptation for Bailiwick’s Pride series takes Shakespeare’s “how quickly bright things come to confusion” all too literally. The plot doesn’t thicken–it congeals. Here the fairies are gay males, and the “rude mechanicals” heterosexual females (except for Bottom, a stereotypical pushy male who wants to play all the parts in “Pyramus and Thisbe”). The lovers are straight when they enter the enchanted wood, but thanks to a fairy spell (or conversion?) they emerge as same-sex couples. It’s clumsily unclear, however, when and how they’ve fallen in love, since their interactions never display a shred of tenderness until after daylight breaks the fairy spell. Far from inverting Shakespeare’s scenario, Cooper merely complicates the contrivances. Sheer arbitrariness seems the rule, as it never is with Shakespeare.

This muddle could be better borne if the performers took the poetry or comedy seriously enough to bring it to life. But declamations projected to the rafters shred any intimacy, and the “hempen homespuns”–like their supposedly actor-proof play–are tedious but not brief. Kevin Keys’s Bottom garners nary a laugh, a dubious achievement in this surefire part. The lovers fare best: Gabrielle Brite’s Helena is charming amid the chaos. Michael Derry makes a magisterial Oberon, but Jon Festl’s Puck is a blatant, incongruous flaming muscle man. Jim Raby’s fantastic costumes make up for the set’s apparently treeless wood.

–Lawrence Bommer