Friday, March 4, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare

'Midsummer Night's Dream' starts off with talk of the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens and his bride Hippolyta.  As they are talking, one of their subjects come forward with his daughter, who is refusing to marry the man of his choice.  The Duke tells her that she must either marry, go to a convent or be put to death.  (Athens had rough laws.)  She remains defiant so the Duke gives her three days to come around.  She decides to flee to the country with her true love, but not before telling her girlfriend.  The girlfriend loves the man she is supposed to marry and she straight away blabs to him.  (The girls are named Helena and Hermia and are virtually interchangeable.  The men are named Lysander and Demetrius and are likewise identical.)  They all go to the woods.
Out in the woods, we meet Oberon, king of the fairies and his queen, Titania.  They are fighting with each other and have been for some time.  Oberon takes aside Puck, who is a first class trouble maker.  He has Puck get a flower that has some magic qualities.  When put into someone's eyes, they will love the next thing they see, man or beast.  Oberon wants to use this to make Titania fall in love with something awful.  As an aside, he asks Puck to put some in the eyes of a man in Athenian garb so that the lovers may be straightened out.  Puck gets the flower and puts the juice in the wrong lover's eyes. 
As all of this is happening, a group of 'rude mechanicals' start to rehearse a play that they will perform for the Duke's wedding.  The lead is played by Bottom, a blowhard of an actor.  As they rehearse, Puck puts a donkey's head on Bottom and scares the rest of the players off.  Titania, now bewitched, sees Bottom and falls in love with him.
Everything gets straightened out after much confusion.  The Duke comes across the lovers and bids them marry each other.  All is forgiven.  The mechanicals put on their play which is described as brief and tedious while also being a comical tragedy.  All of those terms are true.

I've been in this play.  Nearly 25 years ago, I played the part of Puck and absolutely loved it.  It was my first contact with performing Shakespeare.  It taught me how much harder you have to work with Shakespearian language.  How to communicate to an audience, both with words and in broader actions.  I'm convinced that this is the reason that so many of the greatest actors are 'trained' with Shakespeare.

If I was to play in it today, the choicest part would be that of Bottom.  (Though the actor who plays Wall would also be a choice small part.)  The rude players are simply wonderful.  Even reading the play, I could picture just how funny their scenes should be.  They have a great mix of seriousness and utter ridiculousness.  Delicious!

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