A Midsummer Night's Dream, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the Angus Bowmer Theatre, Ashland, Oregon, 15 February-2 November 2008.

Geoff Ridden
University of Winchester

Geoff Ridden. "A Midsummer Night's Dream, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the Angus Bowmer Theatre, Ashland, Oregon.". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 19.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-2/revridd1.html>.

    Directed by Mark Rucker, Associate Director Corey Atkins, Set Design by Walt Spangler, Costume Designs by Katherine Roth, Lighting by Robert Peterson, Music composed by Todd Barton and Ken Roht, Choreography by Ken Roht, Dramaturg Martine Kei Green, Voice and Text Director Andrew Wade, Fights and Movement by John Sipes and U. Jonathan Toppo.

    With Michael Elich (Theseus), Shona Tucker (Hippolyta), Linda Alper (Egeus), Emily Sophie Knapp (Hermia), Tasso Feldman (Lysander), Christopher Michael Rivera (Demetrius), Kjerstine Anderson (Helena), Kevin Kenerly (Oberon), Christian Albright (Titania), John Tufts (Puck), U Jonathan Toppo (Quince), Ray Porter (Bottom), Eileen DeSandre (Flute), Josiah Phillips (Snout), Jeffrey King (Snug), Richard Elmore (Starveling), Jeany Park (Philostrate), Mark Bedard (First Fairy and Moth), Eddie Lopez (Cobweb), Neil Shah (Peaseblossom), Edgar Miguel Sanchez (Mustardseed), Collin Malcolm and Kevin Weatherby (Changeling Child).

  1. Director Mark Rucker is a newcomer to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and his debut production was an innovative, exciting and amusing version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, much helped by the design of Walt Spangler and the music and choreography of Todd Barton and Ken Roht. From the opening scene with its huge Art Deco chairs, it was clear that this was going to be a visually stimulating piece, and, when Linda Alper entered as a female Egeus, we knew that no gag was going to be left unplayed: as she listed the various offerings which Lysander had made to Hermia, she produced many of them from her bag: including Hermia’s diary with Lysander’s rhymes; a recording of Lysander singing by moonlight at Hermia’s window, and the very sweetmeats themselves which he had sent her.

  2. OSF has always been adventurous in casting against the conventional gender. One consequence of a female Egeus was that Lysander was able to say to Demetrius ‘You have her mother's love...; do you marry her!', which made better sense than the original. We had a female Flute here too: Eileen DeSandre's was able to object to playing a woman in the mechanicals' play, and later the text was altered from "This beauteous lady Thisby is certain" (V.i.130) to " This man or person Thisby is certain".

  3. The mechanicals, brilliantly led by Ray Porter as Bottom, won over the audience as soon as their psychedelic VW bus drove on to the stage. This was a hippy set of mechanicals, suspiciously reminiscent of the 2002 OSF production of The Winter's Tale which had also featured an old VW, and in which Porter had played Autolycus. Amusing as it was to have the bus (which sometimes failed to start) it did mean that some lines no longer made sense: when Puck tells Oberon what happened after Bottom acquires the ass's head, he claims that:

    briers and thorns at their apparel snatch;
    Some sleeves, some hats, from yielders all things catch.
    I led them on in this distracted fear. (III.ii.29-31)
    But we had already seen them simply drive off in fear in their bus.

  4. The scenes with the lovers were directed with much less sentimentality than I have seen elsewhere, and indeed these scenes were less directed than choreographed, in that the movement and the shapes of the bodies became almost as important as the words. These were young lovers, very physical, whose costumes became more minimalist as their night in the wood wore on: the fairies stole their outer clothes, leaving them in the underwear to wrestle and wrangle.

  5. And so to the fairies and to the wood at night. The designs here were spectacular and breathtaking: huge stars, towers for trees which the fairies could climb, and a mirror ball. Kevin Kenerly’s Oberon was magnificent, as was Christine Albright’s Titania: they both looked regal and imperious, and, again, their interplay was so carefully choreographed so that it did at times become a dance. And in the wood we had more casting against conventional gender. If the text says 'fairies', then let's have... fairies. Puck is conventionally male in any case, but this production cast all the fairies as male, dressed in the sort of transparent tops favoured by the British band of the 1990s, Right Said Fred, with tutus and high-heeled boots. These fairies could dance and sing, and the wood suddenly became a disco: hence the mirrorball.

    There is a risk in such an enterprise: will the audience find it so camp that it loses its concentration and riot ensues? I saw this happen in a 1995 production of Romeo and Juliet in London, where the young men were played as effete, and the audience of schoolchildren laughed through all the lines, ruining the play. This did not happen with Rucker’s production. When I saw it, most of the audience were from high schools, but they were incredibly well-behaved because the production gave them lots to do - they could clap along, wave their arms, cheer the singing and the dancing, and still let the play go ahead, even though this was full-length version of the play, including some quite lengthy soliloquies. The production demonstrated that these risks are far easier to take with comedy than with tragedy.

  6. OSF has always set high standards in the speaking of the verse and prose, and this production was no exception. In addition to Kevin Kenerly’s total command of the language, Ray Porter was able to play with accents and different styles of oration, especially in the mechanicals’ play, Michael Elich's Theseus acquired an almost Mafia-style accent of which Marlon Brando would have been proud, and the lovers sometimes gave startling insights which were certainly new to me. For example, in this interchange between Lysander and Hermia

    Lysander: For lying so, Hermia, I do not lie.
    Hermia: Lysander riddles very prettily… (II.ii.51-52)

    Hermia placed the emphasis on the first syllable of Lysander’s name, making that three ‘lies’ in two lines.

    Only very occasionally did I have any quarrel with the speaking. When Titania speaks of raising the lovely boy, son of her votaress, she twice says she did it ‘for her sake’ (II.i.136-7): the emphasis here must surely be on the middle word rather than on the last word. And when Lysander in the opening scene tells Hermia of his dowager aunt and her great 'revenue' (I.i.158), it is the middle syllable which needs to be stressed to preserve the metre rather than the modern emphasis on the first syllable.

  7. But these are minor cavils, in what was a simply splendid piece of theatre. By the interval I was wondering whether the delights of the first half could be sustained – we had had the fairies, the dancing, the music, the mechanicals, the bus, the wonderful sets and lighting. Where was there to go? The answer lay in a brilliant last fifteen minutes. The cast playing the mechanicals are among some of the most experienced members of the company and they clearly enjoyed what they were doing (I wonder how much changes from performance to performance?) U. Jonathan Toppo’s Quince was, as he had been throughout the play, a character who thought he knew about theatre, bringing a confidence to the master of ceremonies role (and including one well executed prat-fall). And for the last five minutes the wonderful John Tufts as Puck took over, as we moved from the mechanicals’ bergamask; he sang the closing verses with the other fairies dancing behind him, gradually to be joined by the rest of the cast (including a Ray Porter guitar solo!)
  8. This is Bill Rauch's first season at OSF as Artistic Director. He directed Romeo & Juliet here last summer, and I had many reservations about that production. However, if he can commission exciting work of this calibre, we are in for a treat under his leadership.
  9. Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).