Midsummer in fall

The drama department re-imagines A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a multi-century, mohawked and safety-pinned context

The drama department’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened on Wednesday night, depicting a much darker and more studded cast than William Shakespeare had envisioned.

The play, written circa 1595, is one of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular plays and under the direction of Greg Wanless, it has been re-imagined in the late 19th century.

Wanless notes in the program that this was done to help bring the portrayed patriarchal society into a more immediate light. This was an apt decision; few societies were more constricting, sexist and patriarchal than Victorian England and the play seemed at home in this setting.

The company performed excellently, with each actor fully inhabiting their characters down to the last detail. Mark Rochford’s Egeus was particularly noteworthy for his excellent construction of the distinct mannerisms that brought the character to life.

Nicole Buscema plays the heartbroken Helena perfectly, huffing and puffing her way around the stage with endearing gusto. There was believable chemistry between Helena and Lauren Jackson’s Hermia and one could definitely imagine the two as life-long friends.

However, by far the most memorable characters were Paul Bryant’s Nick Bottom and the associated workmen. Bryant was the perfect mix of blustering pomposity and irrepressible enthusiasm and had the audience repeatedly roaring with laughter.

The blocking of this play left something to be desired. For reasons that were obscure to this reviewer, numerous characters (Demetrius, Oberon, Lysander and Hermia, in particular) delivered lines with their backs to the audience. This was a frustrating choice, because the audience couldn’t see their faces, making it difficult to identify with a character that one cannot see emoting.

The set was both simple and evocative, with the forest setting being particularly creative and well done. The crew managed to create a believable mystical forest with few props and made good use of the space with vines hanging down amongst the audience.

A more curious choice was the one that saw the action on stage projected onto a screen immediately behind. It didn’t provide an alternate viewpoint that might have allowed the audience to see the faces of the actors. Instead, it just showed the exact same thing that was happening on stage which was a distracting and confusing visual. It was used to good effect occasionally, when random images flashed across it to translate a feeling of chaos within the forest, but the bulk of the play left me feeling like I was watching a screening of The Blair Witch Project, not one of Shakespeare’s play.

The Victorian aesthetic that Wanless claimed he wanted to project was disrupted by a number of costuming choices, most notably the costuming of the fairy world. All of the fairy characters were clothed in punk attire: Oberon sported a blue mohawk and a distinctive studded leather jacket with “King of Shadows” emblazoned on the back, while Titania wore dreadlocks, plaid and fishnets.

This was no doubt done to underscore the ways in which the forest was separate from the world outside, but it was done to poor effect. Because it was so separate (not to mention anachronistic) from the previous established aesthetic, it was jarring, and disrupted the cohesion of the performance. It undermined the universe that Wanless and his crew and company worked to create, and distracted from the overall performance.

Had the play been set in the modern day, this would have been an inspired and interesting point, but it clashed with the stated aesthetic in a way that was largely unnecessary. It left the impression that the crew had been torn between the two visions of the play, and had instead decided to lump them together into one.

The play was well-acted, but ultimately suffered from confusing and conflicting choices in blocking, setting and costuming. It’s definitely worth seeing, but will likely leave you scratching your head, thinking, as the Bard might say, “it’s all [or partly] Greek to me.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing tonight, tomorrow and Nov. 16-20 at 8 p.m. with a matinee Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the drama office in the basement of Theological Hall or at the door (cash only), $15 general admission, $10 students/seniors.

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