Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Performance Date: 06.16.10
Mortal Folly Theatre

A Midsummer Nights’ Dream is many people’s first experience with Shakespeare, and it was an early one of mine. In third grade, the sixth graders mounted a production of Midsummer, and I remember Bottom, transfigured with the head of an ass, entering the scene in which Titania falls in love with him. He was humming the theme song from “The Smurfs” and we all thought that was hysterical.

In later years, I myself appeared in two productions of Midsummer. The first production was the first play I was in since elementary school; I was a junior in high school and I played one of Hippolyta’s attendants, a non-speaking role. My costume was basically a green satin bag belted by some copper mesh with matching mesh wristbands. It was hot. I sat on a platform, along with my fellow green-satin attendant, trying to look catlike and unapproachable.

The second Midsummer was also a first -- my first show as an officially aspiring actress, about a year after taking my first acting class. I was twenty-four and I played Hermia wearing a private school uniform. Also hot. My favorite part was launching myself at Helena in the big lovers’ quarrel and I was challenged by the nightmare Hermia has just before she wakes to discover Lysander absconded. I had trouble pretending to be asleep while fighting an imaginary snake and speaking in verse. Ah, the early days.

These days most of my peers profess to have had their fill of Midsummer, but I think it is secretly a favorite play for many of them. Yes it lends itself to hokey insincerity – all that frolicking with Mustardseed in the wood – but it also holds within it a potential energy that I feel could rock me to my primal core, if only a single production could unleash it. In this dream Dream of mine, Oberon and Titania are thunderstorms of sexuality and Nature. The lovers radiate a hormonal heat that fuels their explosiveness in love, lust, and jealousy, and yet they remain uncorrupted by cynicism. Puck possesses a kinetic mystery, the fairies are both flighty and frightening, and the Mechanicals are pathetic, in the very best sense, and hilarious. It’s hard to imagine getting all of that, plus superbly handled language, plus fearsome displays of physicality, plus amazing sound, lights, and design – all essential elements in my dream Dream – together in a single show, particularly in today’s theater climate of scare resources. And thus I feel my dream Dream will always be a dream. But I plan to keep a look out.

As an aside, I feel I should mention here the 1970 Peter Brook production of Midsummer, which of course I’ve never seen, not even on tape, as recordings are very rare if they exist at all. I’ve not yet truly read up on that piece of theater history either, but its legend – as passed down in lore by the participants, or by authors and mentors who saw it firsthand – hangs over me like a tremendous specter, vainglorious and painfully out of reach. It’s infuriating that something so monumental and groundbreaking, that inspired so many legions of theater professionals and patrons throughout the world, happened five years before I was born. It’s like arriving to a party and learning that JFK, John Lennon, and Jesus just left.

At any rate. This is all to say that someone at Mortal Folly Theatre seems to have a similar dream Dream to my own. I saw and felt the intention for nearly all of my Midsummer wishes present on their stage, and the intention crystallized for me in some very memorable moments. Our first moments with Puck, for example – the sprite zipping about the stage as if made of lightening, pounding on the earth as an invocation, then leaping and freezing into a sort of crouching handstand to listen with an ear to the ground. Or the lovers, whose incredibly high-energy, knock-down brawl went farther and longer than any I’d ever seen. Or the live music, played by a cellist with a laptop, creating a depth of atmosphere that gave the giant tree tattoo across Oberon’s back a sort of tribal power. These moments, reflecting as they did my own Dream, made me feel recognized. And with each one, it was as though a little place in me sighed in relief and let go. In fact, if I remember correctly, I left the theater a little more relaxed than I entered it. Just another amazing thing that this art form can do.


  1. I completely agree with the idea that people tend to "poo poo" Midsummer as a little washed up from over-production. But suffice it to say I've only ever seen one production and it was in college. I walked away thinking what a tremendously funny story it is and how much fun everyone seemed to be having.

    As I jump into grad school this fall, I just learned that the second year actors will be performing Midsummer this October and truth be told - I got really REALLY excited. I can't wait to see it again especially acted by people with little to no inhibitions.

    Tee. Hee.

  2. Keith, I cannot wait to see YOU in performances in grad school!