A Midsummer Night's Dream: Presented by the Watermill Theatre and Propeller at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, Brooklyn, New York

By Collins, Jane | Shakespeare Bulletin, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Presented by the Watermill Theatre and Propeller at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, Brooklyn, New York


Collins, Jane, Shakespeare Bulletin


A Midsummer Night's Dream

Presented by The Watermill Theatre and Propeller at The Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, Brooklyn, New York. March 16-28, 2004. Directed by Edward Hall. Designed by Michael Pavelka. Lighting by Ben Ormerod. Music by Tony Bell, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, and Jules Werner. With Tony Bell (Bottom), Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (Lysander), Sam Callis (Titania), Alasdair Craig (Moth, Fairy), Emilio Doorgasingh (Hippolyta), Matthew Flynn (Theseus), Alexander Giles (Fairy), Robert Hands (Helena), Barnaby Kay (Oberon), Vincent Leigh (Demetrius, Snout), Jonathan McGuinness (Hermia, Snug), Chris Myles (Quince, Egeus), Sion Scardifield (Puck, Starveling), and Jules Werner (Flute).

When Titania looks like she could use a full-body wax, Hippolyta is built like a wrestler, and Helena has a distinctly receding hairline, you know you are in for A Midsummer Night's Dream that intends to test the limits of theatrical illusion. Edward Hall's intelligent and fast-paced staging of one of Shakespeare's most hilarious plays seems to argue that, in a first-rate production, seeing and believing do not need each other as much as Hermia needs her Lysander or Helena her Demetrius. Hall directs the all-male British acting troop, Propeller, and has made casting choices that do nothing to minimize the obvious physical differences between men and women. However, by the end of the production the audience both sees the bulging Adam's apple that marks Hermia as a very short man, yet also believes in the happy magic of her successful union with Lysander (also a short man). This play is about transformation--of devoted lovers into unfeeling cads, of an imperious fairy queen into a besotted fool, of a hammy working man into a beloved ass--and this production works a similar transformation on its audience. Just like the bewitched lovers who see differently when Puck leaks his magic juice into their eyes, the audience, charmed by the talent and energy of Hall and Propeller, is able to believe in the emotional truths of this "translated" production and falls hopelessly in love.

The production begins while the audience takes their seats. Michael Pavelka's set manages to be both minimalist and ornate. Everything on stage is either black or white and lit by a murky blue light. Center stage is empty except for a large wooden box with a mirrored top. The edges of the stage are fined with black scaffolding topped with white rococo chairs with their legs broken off. As the audience gradually fills the theater, the actors enter one by one and take places within the set. Some climb up the scaffolding and sit atop the chairs; others lounge comfortably on the floor. All of them watch the audience with impassive or perhaps slightly bored expressions on their faces, reversing the roles of who looks at whom in the theatrical exchange. Indeed, this opening is our first hint of the production's take on how theatrical illusion works: this director and his actors ask us to constantly interact with the process of the production, to watch how it is done but still believe in its illusions.

The costumes continue the black and white color scheme of the set. The actors are all clad in white long-johns with black shoes. Some also have black corsets strapped over their long-johns. Each has a harmonica hanging from a string around his neck. The production starts with a musical jolt. The harmonicas are put into service, and Puck, in candy-striped tights and a tutu, rushes about handing out the jackets that will signify maleness and the skirts that will make some men into women. …

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