When it comes to introducing children to the works of William Shakespeare, there may be no more fitting entree than “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Bard’s tale of star-crossed lovers, magical meddling, and musical fairy merriment is a comic romp kids can follow even with the playwright’s original dialogue. So it’s fitting that Southwest Shakespeare Company has been touring Phoenix schools with their adaptation, titled “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.” The company’s performance at Kerr Cultural Center on December 9 marked the first time they performed it for adults, and it was a good look at what audiences can expect when SSC performs “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” at Taliesin West this weekend.
Set in a wintery forest – simulated by several simple, snow-capped, waist-high cardboard trees and colored balloons hanging overhead with twinkling lights inside, “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” is a faithful take on Shakespeare’s story, just adapted for a different season. The basic plots are that Hermia wants to marry Lysander, but Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius. Helena is in love with Demetrius, but he wants nothing to do with her. The king and queen of the fairies intervene with some love magic that does not go as planned (to hilarious results), and in the middle of all this, there’s a bumbling traveling theatre troupe in the forest, on their way to perform "the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe” at a wedding.
Each person in the 7-member cast plays multiple roles in the 75-minute production, frequently within the same scenes. Costume changes are simple – the actor playing Lysander in a black leather jacket becomes Oberon with the additional of a green cape and a staff; the actor playing Hermia’s father brilliantly becomes theatre troupe ham Nick Bottom by just donning a knit cap with festive yarn balls dangling from the sides. Fairies frequently pop up from behind the trees and every cast member helps simulate a lovestruck Lysander chasing Helena through the forest by moving the trees past them to create the comical but effective illusion of them running very fast. The actor playing Oberon’s sprite, the mischievous Puck, perches atop a ladder to simulate being high up in the forest trees. The sparse settings and minimalist costumes work well, thanks largely to the multi-tasking talents of the cast.
Near the end of the production, the theatre group that has been wandering through the forest in the story finally performs “Pyramus and Thisbe,” and it’s a delightfully overdone slice of pure dramatic comedy – definitely the best scene in an overall impressive production. It’s a perfect punctuation mark on this festive, family-friendly foray into the most magical world ever imagined by Shakespeare.
“A Midwinter Night’s Dream” at Taliesin West
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