New awakenings for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on second time around
July 8, 2005
Seeing a great play twice is like rereading a good book. Lines become more clear, characters become more accessible. The play becomes an entirely different experience – if anything, more exciting the second time around. Making a great play twice is apparently equally enlightening. When Jef Hall-Flavin, associate director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” undertook the direction of the play in Aspen a year after its debut in Washington, D.C., he was acutely aware of the possibilities “remounting” the play would offer him.”If you come back to something, you think about it in a different way,” Hall-Flavin said. “I think we’ve had more fun the second time around.” And despite having to rehearse the material in half the time with a host of new cast members, this production has certainly improved.”I was able to concentrate more on clarity,” Hall-Flavin said. “This production has a dark underbelly, and yet it’s really funny and delightful at the same time.”Coming back to the play again, he said, has given him more of a chance to work on those elements of the production.True to Hall-Flavin’s word, this production has evolved. Despite all the accolades it received when it first debuted in Washington, it truly has become even better.It is an amazing feat when one considers the obstacles that the group had to face. Much of the central cast from the last show was engaged in other plays and could not be at this production. The new cast members had only two and a half weeks to rehearse. Given the success of the earlier production, it is a credit to the production team that they made the bold decision not to carbon copy last year’s run. The result is a performance that firmly refuses to be encapsulated in its earlier successes. Instead of attempting to force Eric Martin Brown, the new actor who played Theseus and Oberon, to adopt the stern and severe mien of his predecessor in the role, the director allowed him to reinterpret the part. The result is a more human and accessible character, who adds a different feeling to the role and play than his predecessor.Anne Louise Zachry’s performance as Helena is physically better animated than last year’s Helena, and her acting is equally superb. And Nick Bottom, played by John Livingstone Rolle (he played Starling in the last version), elicited even more laughs from an enthusiastic audience than his predecessor, David Sabin, himself an accomplished Shakespearean actor.To be fair to Sabin, who was also a fantastic Bottom in the Washington performance, the audience responded more enthusiastically in general here than in Washington, largely because the production has become even more refined. Lysander’s (Paris Remillard) acting was uproarious and completely outstripped his last performance. Hermia (Noel True), as well, was amazingly improved. She evolved from what was already a fantastic performance to become one of the major stars of the play.When it first debuted in Washington, the undebatable star of the play was Daniel Breaker’s Puck. On opening night here, he carried the show less than last year. At the end of opening night here, the audience cheered just as hard for the lovers and for Bottom as for Puck – though Breaker was just as superb as before, his colleagues had improved to match his level. The second viewing also allowed for better appreciation of the unchanged elements of the play. The costumes – which range from 1940s prom to housewife to modern business to, in the case of the fairies, junkyard clothing – do much to firmly set both the imaginary and real worlds of the play in a mysteriously strange light, blurring the line between the real and dream worlds. The stage set design fortifies that idea as well, creating a world in which the twigs of the forest can be found within the royal house, and the fairy queen’s throne is an ornate couch that would better belong in the world of the Athenian, or Victorian, royalty. The only change between the two worlds – apart from the removal of some furniture – is the opening of the back wall to reveal the trees of the forest, and with all the walls painted in mellow and nearly colorless shades of grayish brown, the whole world seems dreamlike, even magical. “It’s sort of a sepia-toned world,” Hall-Flavin said, “Some people dream in black and white, so we’ve picked that sort of sepia-toned setting. It’s visually stunning because of that.”Sasha Klein is a student from Washington, D.C., who is spending his summer in Aspen. He plans to contribute occasionally to The Aspen Times through mid-August.