At The Oregon
Shakespeare Festival, Ashland's Elizabethan Theatre, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer
Night's Dream" is a magical production that captures all of the wit and
charm of this
most enchanting of plays. This is one of those plays that I've never been able
to read, but when seen, there's nothing quite like it. There are very few ways
to spend a more enjoyable evening. This production by Kenneth Albers seems to
stress the aspect of parallel worlds more than most, as the same actors play
dual roles in all but the four lovers.
It opens in Athens. The single set replicates a garden with a solid marble arch at the back, marble rails, and benches. There's also a statue. All is covered in fine vines, which are entwined with small Christmas lights. The lights start modestly enough, swell as the show progresses, and produce grand, spectacular effects at the end. Philostrate is rolled out on a marble chair that seems like a throne. He inspects his four young assistants.
Lysander, but her father commands her to marry Demetrius. The Duke commands
her to obey her father, who should be like a God to her, or face death or retire
to a convent under Athenian law. He turns to his own consort, Hippolyta and
says come. She stamps over to him, rips off her necklace, throws it away, and
stomps off in anger. Hermia and Lysander decide to elope to his aunt's, where
they won't be subject to Athenian law, and can marry. They plan to meet in the
forest the next night. Hermia tells Helena, who's in love with Demetrius, who
spurns her, and she tells Demetrius. The Rustics gather to prepare their play
and Quince assigns their roles. Bottom will play Pyramus and Flute will play
Thisby. As eachpart is assigned, Bottom wants to play that. "Let me play
the lion. I will roar as loud as any sucking dove." Quince says he will
play, no part other than Pyramus, and that's the end of it.
Next night, in the forest the fun begins. All the characters from Athens are now transformed into the characters of their parallel world, one of the fairies. Puck inspects his Pucksters in this magical world. The offstage spirit speaks to him, as the Christmas lights flash in a different group on the stage to simulate the spirit's movement. The Duke becomes Oberon, Hippolyta becomes Titania. They are in long, glittery green gowns that give an earthy effect, like stringy vines. Oberon takes the Duke's part, Titania, Hippolyta's in the affair of Hermia and Lysander. Oberon commands Puck to fetch the magical herb. He saunters away slowly, even for Puck, on his forty minute journey around the world.
Titania flashes light from her hands, as Puck reclines on his seat, apparently sleeping. The Pucksters have presented Oberon with ridiculous plants, but Puck has brought the real one. Oberon rubs the herb on Titania, so she will fall in love with the first creature she sees, upon awakening. He realizes he's invisible, and sits back and watches as Helena pursues Demetrius. She says, "The more you spurn me, the more I love you. Treat me as you treat a dog." Oberon is incredulous as these mortals are dropped into his world. He casts his spell, they stop dead still as he commands how Demetrius will chase her, but she will spurn him. After Puck mistakenly puts the potion in Lysander's eyes, he falls madly in love with Helena. He's totally over the top as he pursues her. The fun has really begun.
rehearse their play. Puck turns Bottom into an ass. He brays his lines, and
the others run off. When Titania awakens and falls in love with him, the Rustics
return as her Fairies. It's an "Alice in Wonderland" effect, with
Quince as the Mad Hatter, and all in gross electric orange exaggerations of
Part 2 opens with a spectacular show of lights and Puck reporting on Titania to a delighted Oberon. Hermia thinks Demetrius has killed Lysander, and jumps on his back, kicks and chokes him, then punches him in the stomach. Oberon figures out what's happened and is livid. Helena thinks both men mock her, and when Lysander mocks Hermia, Helena thinks all three are making fun of her. The comedy builds to a fever pitch as Hermia lunges at Helena, but is caught by the men, who have to restrain her repeatedly. Everything's exaggerated here. When Puck creates, the fog the groups of lights shift and roll from side to side, with a lot of stop action. It's mystical and magical as the four lovers finally fall asleep. Puck rubs the herb in Lysander's eyes.
The Fairies and Titania rise through the floor. They fan her with a giant, brightly colored butterfly. Both she and Bottom are returned to their original state, and both vaguely remember dreams.
It's back to the world of Athens, and the right lovers are paired off and married. The Players, in their original state, perform their play. It's one of the better renditions of this I've seen. U. Jonathan Toppo as Thisby is particularly outrageous. He sways and bats his eyes. He's a sultry vamp, with nary a smile. "Oh! I killed the wall's hole!" The entire stage, from top to bottom is filled with Christmas lights, and everything becomes very 3-D with Oberon and Titania. Sandy McCallum's stupendous Puck sweeps away the dust in this enchanting production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland's Elizabethan Stage. It continues through October 12.