Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reimagined "Midsummer Night's Dream" a controversial production at Stratford

The topic at the breakfast table of the wonderful Avery House B and B table is always filled with opinions about what the guests have seen at the Stratford Festival. 

A number of people had viewed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  The conversations got animated when that play’s title was brought up.  On the positive side, it was generally agreed that the play was fun-filled.  On the other hand, a number of people thought the reimagining of the start of the production farce did little to enhance the already delightful script.  In fact, some people expressed the view that all of “the added stuff” took away from the delight. The latter view was strongly presented by a group who dubbed themselves, “Shakespeare purists.”  They like their Shakespeare as The Bard wrote it, without any “creative game playing,” as one person stated.

Just for the record, I am not a “purist.”  I tend to believe that some of the Bard’s, works, can be enhanced, made more appropriate to an era, by changing the setting, using modern rather than Elizabethan-era language, and blending costume styles to universalize the ideas. 

I also strongly believe, however, that when a director decides to bastardize what was originally perceived, s/he needs to have a clear idea of why the changes are being made, should be sure that those concepts become clear to the audience, and are carried through with fidelity.  

In the case of the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Stratford production, I don’t believe that director  Chris Abraham carried out those requirements as well as he was obligated to do.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comedies.  Filled with fantasy, romance, and farcical situations, the story centers four Athenian lovers and group of amateur actors who become controlled and manipulate by a group of fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play takes place.  But,  the script does, as is true with all of The Bard’s comedies, have some theme messages.  In this case The Bard of Avon dealt with the role of such concepts as the aristocracy, sexuality, loss of individual identity, feminism, and the cultural patterns of early modern England. 

The delightful romp centers on the tale of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who is about to get married Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons.  A member of the Duke’s court wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, but she is in love with Lysander.  The Duke commands Hermia to marry her father’s choice or become a nun.  Of course, Hermia and Lysander ignore the dictate and run away.  They get lost in the woods, where Oberon, the king of the fairies reigns.  Oberon’s attempt to straighten things out results in a series of bumbles made by Puck, Oberon’s mischievous servant, who mixes up potions to that are to be dispersed.  Puck gives them to the wrong persons, with disastourous results.  The mismatched people fall in and out of love, a human becomes a donkey, and misidentifications take place.  The romp climaxes as a group of really bad performers present a play at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding.  Eventually, all is well that ends well. 

The director  has taken many liberties with the script.  As the audience files in, there is an air of general chaos on the stage.  Actors were flooding into the audience, the children who were later to play fairies, ran around and up and down the aisles.  Eventually we were exposed to the fact that we were attending a gay interracial marriage.  Eventually the grooms were dispatched to be seated in the audience for the rest of the play.   Why they were included in the activities was unclear.  What was the role of the couple beyond being window dressing.  After their initial appearance, they never did become a meaningful part of the on-going play.

Abraham also incorporated a deaf character.  Nothing wrong with that, but the short and inconsistent use of sign language during the start of the play, never to be used again, appears to be a gimmick for the sake of adding a gimmick.

The director explains his devices as his attempt to “forge a sense of family and community as central to the play’s setting, and for this community to be inclusive, varied and diverse.”  If this is his goal, then why weren’t his additions incorporated completely into the body of the presentation, but tacked on as stage dressing?  Where does his “community” fit into the community of the play?

As for the rest of the production.  As should be expected with this script, humor reigned supreme.  The pacing was good, the action flowed right along, the farcical scenes were well developed, most of the characterizations worked well. 

The use of children as fairies could have worked if the children’s line and movements were more fully developed. Were the kids cute?  Yes.  Were their addition an effective addition to the production?  Doubtful.

Stephen Ouimette was delightful as Nick Bottom, who is transformed into the donkey.  Karl Ang (Snug), Lally Cadeaum (Quince), Keith Dincol (Snout), Victor Ertmanis (Flute) and Brad Hodder (Starveling) were perfect comic foils as the fools that put on the play for the Duke. 

Chick Reid disappointed as Puck, Oberon’s jester.  Not only was she difficult to hear but she lacked the necessary impish quality.

The song inclusions, special effects, lighting, set design and costumes all added to the quality of the production.

Capsule judgement: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comedies.  Though the comic qualities were high, the Stratford production was filled with needless gimmicks and additions which added nothing to enhancing the basic script.  As evidenced by our B&B table discussion, audiences are going to love or hate this production.   

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