Dreamy Update

Arizona Theatre Company opens its 1995-96 season with an intriguing, eclectic version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In an attempt to bring Shakespeare to a short-attention-span audience, director David Ira Goldstein has used scores of nontraditional approaches to Shakespeare's work.

The result is a must-see for Valley theatregoers.
A play about love, mischief and the world of acting, Midsummer includes three separate but loosely intertwined tales, all taking place in and around Athens. The first involves Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies. Though in love with Titania, Oberon lets his coveting of a changeling boy get in the way of their relationship; mystical mischief ensues.

With the help of his chief fairy attendant, Puck, Oberon arranges for the use of a magical juice, which, when applied to the eyes, causes its victim to fall in love with the first creature he or she sees. Thus armed to get his way, Oberon forces Titania to fall in love with Nick Bottom, a mortal, whose head Puck has turned into that of a donkey.

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The second tale deals with two sets of lovers. Hermia and Lysander are madly in love. Demetrius, the chosen son-in-law of Hermia's father, Egeus, is also in love with Hermia. To complicate matters, Demetrius is passionately pursued by Hermia's friend, Helena. Hermia and Lysander, determined to elope, head off for the woods. Helena entices Demetrius to chase after Hermia, hoping that she will be able to win Demetrius to herself in the woods. Oberon, aware of these happenings, has Puck use the magical juice on Demetrius so that he will fall in love with Helena.

Unfortunately, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, prompting Lysander to fall in love with Helena, thus setting up some wonderfully comic, romantic situations.

The final story involves a group of laborers whom Peter Quince, a carpenter, has assembled to produce a play that will be performed before the Duke of Athens at his wedding. This ragtag group is headed up by Bottom (later to become Puck's pawn in the love battles between Oberon and Titania).

From the confused rehearsals to the final lounge-act performance, these would-be actors are every director's nightmare: For example, Bottom, a prima donna whose only love is his own acting ability, insists on playing all the parts in the play. The performance comes together at the close of the show as a hilarious theatrical nightmare.

ATC's current production takes liberties from the beginning of the show. There is no attempt to define an era; the Duke and his subjects, including Lysander and Demetrius, seem to be dressed in late-1800s attire; Hermia and Helena dress like MTV video jocks. Meanwhile, Peter Quince and his artisan acting troupe wear outfits that make them look either like refugees from a revival of Godspell or colorblind golfers.

And Shakespeare's language is interpreted with every modern inflection imaginable. No potential sight gag escapes unexplored.

The score, composed by Roberta Carlson, boasts synthesized modern music and is accompanied by the equally contemporary choreography of Barbea M. Williams. These musical elements are perfectly suited to the bare ironworks set and the green, parachute-size cloths used to conjure up a fairy world. This mixture--of exposition, music, dance and technical wonders--makes for a smooth, unique presentation of Shakespeare.

As one patron observed, "This is not the Shakespeare I know."
The fairy-world cast is headed by Michael Kevin, a commanding Oberon, and Molly Mayock, a fluttering, though less effective, Titania. Francis Jue, brilliant as Song Liling in ATC's 1993 production of M.Butterfly, misses Puck's conniving side while giving abreathy, overbroad performance. Among the lovers, Corliss Preston, as Hermia, never misses a chance to find the humorinher sometimes disheartening circumstances, and David Scully is entertaining as a harshly businesslike Demetrius.

But the evening truly belongs to the no-talents collected by Quince (Gary Briggle) to perform his original interpretation of the classic tale Pyramus and Thisbe. Briggle's gives a fantastic performance as the Hollywood-style director of this sorry show (he also doubles wonderfully in the role of Egeus). David Pichette, in the dream role of Bottom, is pompously versatile, especially when he describes how he would play each character's role.

Goldstein's direction and his stellar cast carry the audience to mystical places and give it escapism--in the best sense of the word. And even with this modernistic backdrop, Shakespeare's comments about us mere mortals still come through. Bottom's observations on a thinking type of love--"Reason and love keep little company together nowadays"--are clearly demonstrated in the story of the four lovers. And Lysander offers some of the same lines young people use today when he tries to convince Hermia that the only true love relationship is a sexual one.

Whether a modern audience needs its Shakespeare updated will continue to be debated in the theatrical community. But this fast-paced, video-age production is sure to be a hit with at least some hard-core Shakespeare followers, as well as with people who haven't given a thought to Shakespeare since sophomore English class.

Arizona Theatre Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream continues through Saturday, November 18, inCenter Stage at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe.

 
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