Seattle Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer Night’s Dream
Author: Shakespeare
Date Attended: 5th November 2011
Venue: Seattle Shakespeare Company performed at Intiman
Director: Sheila Daniels

What elements need to work to convey the story effectively? 

  • Puck needs to lead you on your journey into the forest
  • Magic and transformation skillfully portrayed
  • Hermia and Lysander as your lovable rock
  • A strong Helena so that you love more than pity her
  • Ridiculous and delusional rude mechanicals

How did the production’s interpretation serve the story?

Let’s start with the lovers.

Sheila Daniels’ production took a brave step in choosing to cast Lysander as a woman, making Hermia’s father forbidding them to marry more relevant than just dislike of a nerdy kid in comparison to the buff Demetrius. This choice was incredibly compelling throughout, if only they hadn’t changed the name from Lysander to Lysandra. The scansion didn’t pan well for me, but that was literally my only complaint about the choice. In every scene the relationship was well-developed and engaging.

This is the first time I’ve seen the play live since I was in high school and as such there were many things that I had completely forgotten from childhood that never bothered me. However, now my post-liberal arts education makes me cringe at Helena’s comparison of herself to a spaniel. However, Helena was sad, funny and hopelessly in love with a moron. I still felt the urge to shake her at the spaniel moment, but my heart felt more for her than I ever thought possible. I still wanted her to get over Demetrius, but her characterization of Helena was so compelling and served the story well that I’m 100% satisfied that Demetrius gets whammied into loving her.

This is the only time I’ve read or seen Hippolyta and Theseus as real characters. Their development with Hippolyta as a warrior and not necessarily completely won over by Theseus yet, served to make them more than mere accessories who can’t wait to get married. Hippolyta was given agency and I was captivated by their relationship.

Now to the fairies.

This production chose to give the fairies a primal, animalistic, tribal quality replete with hissing and furs. The downside of the choice, was in some ways it robbed the magic of the fairy land. The hissing was actually what alienated me most. I want the fairies to draw me into their world. I want Puck to guide me on a journey, but the choice to hiss and snarl into the audience looked as if the fairies were trying to scare us for some reason and gave what transpired more of a malicious nature as opposed to a playful accident. Mostly, because of cuts or the behaviors of the fairies, I didn’t identify with Puck and was left with a disjointed feeling. This isn’t to say that my fairies have to be glittery and plucky, but a little more humanity and playfulness as opposed to creepy would have served the play better.

The rude mechanicals delivered wonderfully. Bottom was pompous and loveable and their patchwork attire sold the haphazard nature of their band.

Why this play now?

It’s difficult to say why this play is important. Essentially, I feel like it’s summed up in Puck’s line “What fools these mortals be,” but only when it serves as a comparison to the fairies who are equally foolish. To oversimplify Midsummer is just a love story with fairy interference. As such, the play is done largely for entertainment rather than to serve a larger aesthetic or global purpose. The Lysander choice and the Hippolyta and Theseus relationship is what made the production feel vital, or at least contemporary. Though the choices they made tried to elevate the play higher than a simple romcom it still begs the question why we as an audience continue to attend the play. My answer is that the belief in magic and love are vital to existence even if the concepts are a tad hokey. We continue to attend to behold transformation and hope for a magical land to transport us.

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One Comment

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  1. you're "why this now" thoughts are spot on. We go to be enchanted, and to assert that such enchantments matter. Love it. (and thus why i merely liked, not loved this production).

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