at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Wow! This Midsummer isn’t so much a staging of a grandmother-approved Shakespeare classic as a performance of a barely Work Safe on-stage rave. The risque romp uses Shakespeare’s text and then sings, dances, and acts the story into a frenzy.
The best part of director Mark Rucker’s vision are the fairy servants of King Oberon and Queen Titania. These fairies aren’t sweet Disney helpers with an impish sense of humor. They’re glam-rock refugees from Rocky Horror on a berserker binge of havoc making.
Other productions have left me wondering why the cute fairies were tweaking the poor love-besotted humans. They were always comforting — if oddly behaving — beings helping us to the happy ending of the play.
Well! These danger boys barely held their darkest impulses in check. Their entrances caused wide-spread shrieks of excitement from the many teenage and sub-teenage girls in the audience. Puck (John Tufts) was sexually smoky. Titania’s courtiers were thieves, brazenly queer, and yet irresistible to all.
The other ensembles were audaciously presented, also. Bottom (Ray Porter) and his fellow actors rolled on stage in a hippie-decorated VW bus. They were mostly stoner galoots, perfect for their mission.
The original young couples in (or not in) love were lively and appropriately appealing in a “I am young but not really a beauty” way. Demetrius (Christopher Michael Rivera) and Lysander (Tasso Feldman) were excellent as fine callow studs, and the juvenile urgency of their sexual rivalry was heightened by the production’s copious use of underwear, underwear snapping, and slapstick physical emphasis of the penis jokes in the Shakespeare text.
The way the young men and women (Emily Sophia Knapp as Hermia and Kjerstine Anderson as Helena) kept winding up in only their underwear was brilliant. There was a tension about just how much flesh we were going to see, and we weren’t sure if we wanted more or less revealed. And, the off-color comments about the men/boys were offered in a satisfying sleazy way and not merely tossed off and hidden in iambic pentameter literary safety.
Duke (Michael Elich) and his beloved Hippolyta (Shona Tucker) were the prefect tone setters. Their heated sexual foreplay at the production’s opening was both humorous and a notification that this wasn’t going to be a safe evening. The kill-joy mother of the Hermia was wonderfully overacted by Linda Alper in a controlled infusion of bitchiness.
Oberon (Kevin Kennerly) and Titania (Christine Albright) are also hot and complex as fairy royalty. They showed much flesh and acted lustily. You wouldn’t invite either home to show mother.
Damn. How could I have written this far without praising the set and costumes?
The stage is a blend of 60’s psychedelic, industrial utilitarian, disco, and magical. It works tremendously well. The scenery grabs the audience as soon as the lights come up. It smacks us in our face, and won’t let us wander away from the story. There are mini-stages and perches a plenty, and the cast moves quickly and nimbly among them on stage and even into the audience — wherever they need to be.
This Midsummer Night’s Dream is not a classic. It’s not a lovely fantasy story first read in high school. It’s a perverted man’s pipe dream, corrupting family values and condoning bad behavior. There’s no consequence for misdeeds, and the sexually unrestrained get rewarded. The low are brought high. Disgusting!
Does this mean you’re in Ashland this weekend? Hope we see you around.
We see MND on Sunday.
[For the record, we saw Frank and Mark on the bricks this afternoon.]
And how do you think the senior ladies-who-lunch set thought of this version of the production?
The production was faithful to the script, and there was so much energy… I really hope that the lunch crowd would have both appreciated the production and applauded the capturing of future generations of audiences.
OSF truly didn’t hijack the play for their own purposes. I’ve seen THAT too often. Instead this was Shakespeare without the good-for-you antiseptic baggage.