]Burning Coal Theatre Company mainstay David Henderson occupies the director’s chair for this uproarious modern-dress production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with prosaic paint-splattered sets by Chris Bernier and eye-catching costumes by Maggie Clifton. Henderson, who artfully abridges the script to run an hour and 45 minutes, including intermission, transposes the Immortal Bard’s witty wordplay and preposterous plot twists from ancient Athens and its enchanted forests to what appears to be a seedy section of the garden district of pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans—during Mardi Gras. With Bourbon Street blues and Dixieland jazz for its soundtrack, this marvelous moonstruck comedy continues to enchant theatergoers of all ages with its romances gone awry and, thanks to a generous sprinkling of a magical herb, the most hilarious pairing of Beauty and the Beast in all of Shakespeare.

UNC-Pembroke theater instructor Holden Hansen and Triangle actress Carolyn McKenna are amusing as the cocktail swilling, love-bead-wearing male chauvinist Athenian king Theseus and the newly conquered much-offended Amazon queen Hippolyta, who is set to wed Theseus in less than a week. They also double delightfully as the prankish fairy king Oberon and his rebellious fairy queen Titania.

But it is Durham School of the Arts drama instructor Carl Martin who steals the show as bullhorn-brandishing, beer-bellied Bottom the Weaver, a gargantuan baseball-cap-wearing amateur thespian with an ego as big as the biggest Broadway star. (There’s not enough mustard in all of Theseus’ realm for this insufferable ham.)

Oberon orders Puck (impishly impersonated by New York actor Philip Mutz) to transform Bottom into an ass, so he can play a cruel joke on his sleeping queen Titania, whom a magical herb makes fall in love with the first creature, man or beast, that she spies upon waking. Thus, Bottom with his donkey ears and his hee-hawing becomes the haughty queen’s new consort and Oberon, Puck, and the audience laugh themselves silly.

The other rude mechanicals—Peter Quince (Al Singer), Snug (Loren Armitage), Snout (Sam Whisnat), Starvling (Allan Maule), and especially Flute (Mike Raab), get their share of belly-laughs. Raab is a scream as a skinny-as-a-rail mustachioed and goateed Thisbe, in a bikini bra, to Bottom’s Pyramus in the gut-busting play-within-the-play, The Most Lamentable Comedy and the Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.

Ashlee Quinones is a bit too pouty and pugnacious as the defiant Hermia, who rejects the handsome but fickle suitor Demetrius (Stephen LeTrent), handpicked by her father domineering Egeus (Al Singer), in favor of the equally handsome and genteel but true-blue Lysander (Joel T. Horton). The men milk their parts for buckets of laughs; and Mary Floyd is endearing as poor, gawky Helena, the beanpole whom Demetrius seduced and abandoned.

Director David Henderson emphasizes pratfalls over poetry in Burning Coal’s rib-tickling rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so the evening’s events remain somewhat earthbound. But a good time is had by all as four pairs of lovers—Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania, Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena—find that the course of true love rarely runs smooth. Indeed, in this case, the biggest bumps along the way are the occasions for the biggest laughs.

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream Wednesday-Saturday, March 6-10 and 13-17, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 11 and 18, at 2p.m. in the Leggett Theatre on the second floor of the Main Building, Peace College, 15 East Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $16 ($14 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 Wednesdays and $10 per person for groups of 10 or more. 919/834-4001 or via etix at the presenter’s site. Note: [P]sychiatrist … Assad Meymandi … will lead a “talkback” session after the show’s March 9th performance. Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://www.burningcoal.org/. This Show: http://www.burningcoal.org/Midsummer%20Page.htm [inactive 8/07]. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy the University of Virginia): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (courtesy UVa): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMNDF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMids.html (1866 Globe Edition).