|Midsummer Night's Dream (A)|
Director: Joel G. Fink
In l598, Francis Meares first wrote about A Midsummer Night's Dream as one of Shakespeare's comedies. Speculation exists as to whether Shakespeare penned the play for the occasion of a noble wedding, or for public performance. The play's earliest published version was an adaptation, Bottom the Weaver (1661).
Adaptation became the norm for Dream during the next few centuries, especially in operas, which often added characters, dances and songs from Shakespeare as well as other poets. Notable operas include Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen (1692) and Madame Lucia Elizabeth Vestris' production in 1840. Vestris' Dream restored much of Shakespeare's dialogue, yet it was foremost a musical spectacle and featured Puck's grand entrance on a rising mushroom.
In the prologue for the production, it's America in the 1950s. A young girl falls into a dream while listening to the radio. The time of the dream is a few days before the wedding of Theseus, King of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Theseus' court is interrupted by Egeus, his daughter Hermia, and two young men of nobility, Lysander and Demetrius. Although Hermia and Lysander are in love, Egeus insists Hermia marry Demetrius. Athenian law prohibits a daughter from marrying against her father's wishes. Theseus tells Hermia she has three choices: marry Demetrius, become a nun, or die unmarried.
Hermia and Lysander decide to elope and plan a rendezvous the next night in the woods. They confide in Helena, Hermia's dearest friend who has been jilted by her old lover, Demetrius. Hoping to gain his favor, Helena informs Demetrius of the couple's scheme and they both follow the lovers into the woods.
The same day, a group of workmen begin preparations for a short play they wish to present at Theseus and Hippolyta's marriage celebration. They decide to rehearse in the woods, exactly in the place where Hermia and Lysander have agreed to meet.
The same woods are revealed to be the home of fairies. The fairy king, Oberon, and his queen, Titania, argue, and Oberon plans a joke on Titania. He sends his henchman, Puck, to fetch a purple flower endowed with Cupid's love potion. Oberon plans to squeeze its juice on Titania's eyelids while she is asleep so the first creature she sees when she awakens will become the object of her desire. Oberon then overhears Helena's plight and, when Puck returns, tells Puck to put the potion on the eyes of a man in Athenian garments.
In another part of the woods, Oberon anoints sleeping Titania's eyes. Puck, who does not know that two men in Athenian dress inhabit the woods, mistakenly casts the spell on Lysander. Lysander awakens to Helena's face and finds himself hopelessly in love with her. Meanwhile, as the workmen rehearse, Puck causes one of them, Bottom, to have an ass' head. Titania awakens to the sight of the transformed Bottom and the spell causes her to be enchanted by him.
Oberon, pleased with his joke on Titania, soon learns Puck mistook Lysander for Demetrius. While Demetrius sleeps, Oberon places the potion on his eyes. Now, both men love Helena and spurn Hermia. Puck magically leads the four lovers to places of rest and reverses the potion's effect on Lysander. While the lovers sleep, Oberon breaks Titania's spell and Puck restores Bottom to normal.
Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus discover the lovers asleep in the woods. Upon awakening, the young people rediscover their first loves Lysander for Hermia and Demetrius for Helena, Theseus then commands that a triple wedding take place.
After the marriage ceremony at the palace, all the lovers and Egeus watch the actors perform their comic play. As the clock strikes twelve, Theseus sends the lovers to bed.
Dreaming Through the Centuries
The 20th century yielded important Dream productions in which Shakespeare's text received preeminence over spectacle. Harley Granville Barker's Dream (1914-15) offered textual integrity, actor-audience intimacy through use of a thrust stage and only one musical interval during the performance.
Max Reinhardt staged several versions of the play between 1905 and 1934. His production concepts featured set designs that ranged from a virtually bare stage in front of green curtains to an outdoor Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. This production became the basis for a major 1935 film starring Mickey Rooney as Puck and James Cagney as Bottom. Possibly the most influential 20thcentury Dream was Peter Brook's 1970 version at the Royal Shakespeare Company. For modern audiences Brook chose circus magic to symbolize fairy magic. In a white box set enveloped by a catwalk and steel ladders, fairies swung down on swings and trapezes, juggled, performed acrobatic tricks and utilized circus props. Amidst the circus clowning, high-energy movements and fast-paced dialogue, Brook's Dream often approached a nightmare, or what he termed "black farce." One critic noted that the lovers, once in the magic forest, unleashed their pent-up emotions: "At one point, Hermia kicking and biting, is tossed about by the men, who finally leave, followed by Helena chased by Hermia."
Though criticized by some as blatant showmanship, other critics hailed Brook's Dream as a welcome change from a century of "theatrical tradition ... [that] commanded you into a frame of mind where the very notion of magic, or supernatural agency, had to be created afresh." Brook's production became the standard by which other interpretations have been judged for more than 20 years.
Other important directors and producers of Dream include Peter Hall, whose five versions include a 1969 film and Benjamin Britten's 1981 operatic version, Joseph Papp, whose 1982 stage version was televised in America, and Robert Lepage. LePage's 1992 Dream at the Royal National Theatre in London attempted to 'reinvent" the play through highly physical action set in 'a large circular pool of water .. surrounded by a bank of mud" and featured mud fights between the lovers.
Even though the productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream have varied in venue, style, setting and purpose, Shakespeare's most popular comedy transcends the limits of a single theatrical style. His Dream will continue to join with the dreams of theater practitioners for years to come.