We’re not sure ol’ Will would approve. But we kinda do.
Arizona Repertory Theatre Company’s current production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” gets a topsy-turvy treatment courtesy of director Stephen Wrentmore.
A look at the production:
Words, words, words: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has roughly 17,000 words; Wrentmore slashed about 5,000 of those out. The result is a swift 90 minutes of the play, boiled down to its essence: love and all the confusion that entails, magic and mischievous fairies, and a play within the play put on by a group of dim-witted but oh-so-funny tradesmen. It did not suffer as a result of the cuts; the heart remained.
Let it rain: A pre-showrainstorm — confined to the in-the-round stage — makes a lovely sound, is beguiling, and quite confusing. Why’s it raining? Why doesn’t it ever rain again? Is an actor going to slip on a wet spot? The program notes indicate that Wrentmore’s intent was to emphasize the “weather and the chaos of the play in association with the current global warming crisis.” Ah, ok. It’s a bit obscure and we’re willing to bet not many will take in the rain and think, “Oh, of course. Global warming.”
What’s that you say? The students showed a good grasp of Shakespeare’s language. But this one completely confused us: Hippolyta the Amazon queen who is to marry Theseus, the duke of Athens, speaks with an indistinguible accent. University of Arizona senior Kate Strauss struggled with it. It’s a shame — she’s a good actress and has had some fine performances in her four years at the UA. She had the right amount of aloofness, and an air of no-kowtowing to the Duke (she is, after all, an Amazon — those women had a keen sense of self). If only she hadn’t been saddled with that accent. ...
What an ass: Senior Owen Virgin owned the juicy role of the stage-hogging Bottom who has the misfortune of running into a fairy who gives him the head of a donkey. Then he becomes the object of the fairy queen’s affection. Virgin is a complete stitch in the role of the hammy actor in the play the tradesmen are staging, and as the confused ass. His death scene in the tradesmen’s play is appropriately drawn-out and overwrought. And knee-slapping funny.
Love is strange: The young lovers were played with conviction and innocence. There was a sweetness to Cooper Hallstrom and Heather Marie Cox’s characters — they are the in-love Lysander and Hermia. Their love has a few roadblocks: Hermia is promised to Demetrius, given a well-defined turn by Max Tzannes. Hermia’s best friend, Helena is mad for Demetrius; he has no interest in her. Sydnee Ortiz’s googly-eyed Helena had a delicious edge that walked a thin line between stalker and just-deep-in-puppy love kid. All of them did quite well, but Tzannes, in the role of the arrogant, must-have-my-way Demetrius, was completely engaging.
Let’s talk about sex: In Shakespeare’s time, men played all the roles. Here, Wrentmore has incorporated women into the line-up, and even switched roles. An example: Sammie Lideen played the role of Egeus, Hermia’s father in the original text. The director just made Egeus the mother, and it worked, especially in the hands of Lideen, who nicely adopted a stern parental air.
Oh, Puck: Puck is the center of much of the story — the fairy just loves confusion and mayhem and she is behind the magic potions that wreak such havoc among the lovers. Sophomore Grace Kirkpatrick displayed the agility of a Cirque du Soleil performer and a talent that is solid and shows much promise.