Theater in the Nation's Capital, Washington, DC
The Shakespeare Theatre's 2003-2004 Season continues with
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Somewhere in Washington there are lovers and fairies, crowns of blue lights, a moon presiding over all those who are lost in the woods, glorious shapes floating through air, fairy beds that rise to the ceiling and a pack of actors who make you think that nothing will ever die. That love and that magic are what we are put on earth to know, and all the wars in history are not worth one page of this imagined world.
Mark Lamos, well known for his direction of movement on stage, brings constant motion - psychological and physical - to this redeeming tale of rivalrous love made wrong through magical potions and loving pairs all made well again. There is a play within a play, and warring humans who become divinely happy. How is this managed? What can possibly happen on a proscenium stage that allows us to believe that pillars of light and pillars of clouds are the true stuff mortals are made of, that essence never dies? Partially it is the lighting and sound. But I think the audience was taken with the movement of form through language. The ballet of thought and motion. Every move is perfected, and that is why Lysander and Demetrius can both grope from the floor to pull off the garments of Helena, while she squirms and struggles away. ("Reason and love keep little company these days") Nothing unorchestrated could allow these stage scrambles to be so cinematic, so crisp, so athletic.
The actors are superb. David Sabin must have had the best time playing "Bottom" the Weaver. All we can do is sit and marvel and clap and say "Thank you."
How many times have we seen Midsummer night's Dream? 20 in a lifetime? 30? Counting church basement productions? Yet I felt as if I'd seen it light up the world for the first time at the Shakespeare Theatre.
This is a play early in Shakespeare's canon. And it shows the rich young mind allowing the full flower of imagination beyond a radiance one could even comprehend in that world or this. Scholars tell us that fairies in the Middle Ages and Elizabethan times were depicted as savage little creatures. I was interested to learn that Shakespeare was the first to present fairies as carriers of good and light. He allowed the mischief to exist, but no skin is broken from these surrounding creatures moving in and through the dream. Little imps with construction lights, elves with wings and things.
The story begins in the shelter of a modern dress version (if the 1930's garb is modern dress) in the court of Athens where we are introduced to the dissonance of the politics of loveÉ. And then to the forest where this convention is encompassed by the sheer spectacle of the "other world." The contrast and contradiction of dress makes this stage version of Shakespeare more comic and refreshing.
Anyone who has seen the current "play" METAMORPHOSIS on Broadway is familiar with Ovid's tales turned to stage. It is said that Ovid is the source for Shakespeare's use of the "play within the play" found here. Tradesmen are rehearsing to present a play for the Athenian court. Just listen to their names: "Bottom," "Quince," "Flute," "Snug,Ó and "Starveling." ÉDidn't Shakespeare have fun writing these? And enter the dream then, with the fairies in attendance to the Fairy Queen, Titania, named: "Mustardseed," "Peaseblossom," "Mote", and "Cobweb.Ó Oh I know lists add up to nothing; but the naming of things is not to be dismissed as sheer litany. Didn't the Book of Genesis begin with this? And isn't Shakespeare's naming another evidence of his divine use of words?
The world is impatient, but art is patient, "Lord What fools these mortals be" is played out by invisible creatures moving humans on their chessboard of calamity and hilarity. "O Flower in our eyes to love the next things seen" may refer to the playgoers who should line up for this production.
Outside the wars are raging over the oil of Iraq, and our beloveds lay dying in real blood. But we can for 3 hours be happy, floating in the tub of pure delight. So, Washingtonians, go see it. Tonight.