With its dazzling lyrical lines, pastoral charm, forest fairies, love potions, and magic, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has enchanted directors, operatic composers, painters, illustrators, and film directors since 1594. From Mendelssohn to Purcell, Peter Brooks, to Woody Allen, this Shakespeare comedy has lent itself to witty adaptations, and in a gallery of colorful stage adaptations, Tom Loughlin’s “Summer of Love” themed MSND deserves a praiseworthy place.
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is no doubt a play about transformation - or translation as Shakespeare calls it in the play. While there is no single text that has influenced this Elizabethan comedy, scholars agree that Shakespeare’s favorite book in grammar school, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, along with a lesser known text, Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, constitute two major inspirations in his reimagining of metamorphic powers in MSND. How so? Well, in this comedy, the transformative power of love allows us to explore possibilities outside of patriarchy and tyranny. While Theseus, the Duke of Athens, is free to marry his war-prize Amazon bride Hippolyta, young lovers Hermia and Lysander are oppressed under Egeus who forces Hermia to marry Demetrius, or face death. Helena, a maypole as Hermia calls her, desperately in love with Demetrius, suffers in the pangs of unrequited love while trying to understand, like all rejected lovers, how she can make Demetrius fall in love with her. Young lovers leave the oppressive city and venture into Oberon and Titania’s enchanted forest, experiencing transformations they could not have dreamed of in Athens, and experiment with love.
And, love is at the center of Tom Loughlin’s stage adaptation of MSND. Loughlin and his production team appropriate their “summer of love” themed play to 1960s Athens, Ohio. Their version of the play takes place on the campus of Athens College and the surrounding woods over the course of a midsummer’s day. Thereby, Athens becomes The College inhabited by the students, the college president, and alumni, The Mechanicals become The Maintenance Staff of the college of Athens, and the Fairyland becomes The Tribe of the local hippies. Even though David Thacker already did a production with a similar sixties theme of the play, the Fredonia Theatre and Dance Department’s production is superior in its thoughtful planning and execution of the theme. It is obvious how much energy and meticulous work went into this production. From its most artistic costume design to the projection of the full moon (the moon occupies a central role in the text), and the delightful music selection from the sixties, everything reveals the unwavering commitment to detail. The directors’ command of the original text and Shakespearean comedy is obvious, and the creative adaptation is at once loyal to the original yet authentic. The sexual overtones in the forest and the portrayal of the mischief of Robin Goodfellow (her existence was as uncontested as Hamlet’s father’s spirit in Elizabethan times) particularly reveal a superb grasp of critical elements in the original text.
It is particularly noteworthy how this production preserves rather isolated Elizabethan theatrical excesses, like the play within the play, Pyramus and Thisbe (main influence on Romeo and Juliet), spectacles (the fight between Hermia and Helena), and stage devices like the trap-door (used as a grave or Hell in original Elizabethan plays) while making them all accessible and enjoyable to the modern audience. Take, for instance, the fact that almost all Elizabethan plays included a jig, and the orchestra (the part where most spectators stood) frequently interacted with the actors. And, we, the Fredonia groundlings, left Marvel theatre twisting to Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” hand in hand with the actors, joining the wedding party, completely energized by the sixties music.
The Indian Boy and the troubles between Titania and Oberon, are left out in this production, the lyricism of the text is sometimes lost in the quick delivery of the lines by the youthful but not suffering voices of the lovers, and, unlike Athens, Greece, Athens, Ohio doesn’t look like such a bad place to live after all. But, whatever the editor’s/director’s choices, this is a very well-rehearsed play, with commendable, energetic acting. The athletic and upbeat performance of Hermia (Joan Marie Cusick), the powerful characterization of Helena (Morgan Troia), Demetrius (Shane Zimmerman), and Lysander (Cody Jones), the unforgettably comical rendition of Bottom (Ana McCasland), the beautifully choreographed and played Robin Goodfellow (Anna Chicco), and the critically handled role of Flute (Eric Schutt) will keep the audience entertained and animated. So, you don’t have to know your stichomythia or Ovid to enjoy this production, and don’t expect to decipher a thick British accent. Just remember the lyrics to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and agree to “slumber here while visions appear” under the full moon, with a set of great actors.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs Thursday, Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. in Marvel Theatre. Tickets are available at the State University of New York Fredonia Ticket Office at 673-3501 and Fredonia.edu/tickets.