Monday, September 26, 2011

The U of U's Midsummer Night's Dream

University of Utah’s Department of Theatre
 A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Review
Date Seen:  September 25, 2011 at 7:30
By Kevin Dudley

The University of Utah Department of Theatre’s Babcock Theatre opened its 2011/2012 season with William Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Nights Dream.  It is believed this classic Shakespearian play was written in 1594 or 1596.  However the exact date is unknown.  It is know that the play was first published in 1600.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream was likely first performed as a bridal masque and preformed at the wedding of nobility.  Today, it is one of the Bard’s most well-known and frequently preformed plays from his body of work.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the whimsical tale of love offered and love spurned, of jealousy, magic, and dreams woven into three disjointed plots.  Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves him.  Hermia’s father has determined Demetrius is a more worthy suitor.  Demetrius was once betrothed to Helena but threw that love over for the beauty of Hermia.  Helena still loves Demetrius.  Lysander puts together a plot to run away with Hermia and they share with Helena.  Helena tells Demetrius in hopes to win his favor.  The four find themselves in the woods and all victims of mischief of Oberon, the King of the fairies and Puck.  Oberon uses the sport of the lovers to distract himself from his war with his Queen, Titania, whom has refused to deliver a changeling child Oberon wants.  In the meantime, a band of Rude Mechanicals finds themselves in the forest to rehearse a play that will be offered to Theseus on his wedding night as he seeks the affection of Hippolyta.  TheMecahnicals become entangled in Oberon’s plot when Puck changes Bottom, the lead actor, into an ass and enchants Titania with a love potion.  She of course is destined to fall in love with Bottom in his unnatural state.

Risa Brainin directed the University of Utah’s production.  Under her direction the play, set in modern day, was presented with a slightly different interpretation; Oberon, (Summer Spence) is the alternative personality of Hippolyta.  Hippolyta finds herself trying to resolve the conflict that results from being a once great warrior who now must submit herself as not only the subject to Theseus (Stuart Ford) but as his bride.  In this production Hippolyta has a child who’s she fears will be taken by Theseus.  Theseus’ alternative personality becomes Titania and the dream world exists in mind of Hippolyta.  Risa Brainin also uses this device to explain the conflict over the changeling child that exists between the two Fairies.  I found the interpretation thought provoking and interesting.  I hadn’t considered a more complex or darker interpretation to this classic tale.  It also puts a woman in the position of power and manipulation in contrast to what would have been the traditional interpretation of the script.

The result of Risa Brainin’s interpretation; however, gave much of the personality of Puck to Oberon.  As a result, the most whimsical, and usually favorite character of the script was lost.   Puck has traditionally been the narrator of the story who weaves the three otherwise unrelated plots together as well the central character to mischief and magic.  With this interpretation we find Oberon taking much of that role. 

Oberon and Titania were not the only characters where an unorthodox approach was taken.  Bottom and Flute were also played females.  Actor Marin Kohler played Bottom with a fresh but traditional edge that was very successful.  When paired with Chelsie Cravens’ high energy and zany interpretation of Flute the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe was a delight. 

The sets designed by Nayna Ramey gave us the idea that we were at the beach watching the plot unfold.  The designer used poles and wooden folding chairs to signify the shift into the Hippolyta’s dream.  The change was subtle but effective as the poles went from a vertical to diagonal presentation and the chairs went from their upright orientation to lying on their side.  The minimal set was effective and did not in detract from other elements of the text and instead allowed the audience a richer experience in the interpretation of that text.

Ethan Olsen designed the lighting.  Mr. Olsen was able to reflect the airiness of the beach in a subtle but sometimes stark and dramatic lighting plot. He successfully added to the environment of the production.

The University of Utah’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents a fresh take on the classic tale by William Shakespeare.  The cast provided solid performances, as a whole, with some notable fresh interpretations of some of the trademark characters.  This is a production that is worth seeing because it is anything but traditional; which entertains as well as challenges the audience by providing a richer subtext. 

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