- Reviewed by
In fall 2006, two small but long-established companies in the Twin Cities staged popular Shakespearean comedies. These productions shared one common feature: in both cases casts of under ten players performed all the parts, so most performers took more than one role. But the similarities ended there. Park Square Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream was a typical crowd pleaser, dispensing with the comedy's darker sexual themes and compounding its many opportunities for stage business and slapstick. Ten Thousand Things Theater Company's Merchant of Venice stressed language and character, both of which were underscored by barebones staging. Though both small-scale productions could be characterized as intimate, they couldn't have been more different. [End Page 45]
Park Square is a well-established St. Paul theatre company with a strong educational mission as well as an appeal to general audiences. Its Midsummer Night's Dream was clearly aimed at both high school and college students. Guest director Jef Hall-Flavin didn't deny the play's tragic possibilities in the early scenes—the chill between Theseus and Hippolyta at the outset or the weight of Egeus's evocation of patriarchal law or disharmony in nature arising from the quarrel between Oberon and Titania. But he emphasized the comic chaos that developed out of the initial tensions. His casting, in which all actors except Terry Hempleman (Bottom) doubled or tripled roles, had the effect—intended or not—of diminishing individuality and emphasizing the topsy-turvy world of lovers at odds and the worldly odds against lovers.
The most novel and daring aspect of this populist production was the doubling and tripling of parts: as is common, the fairy king and queen and the Athenian royal couple mirrored one another. Theseus, Hippolyta, and Philostrate double as Oberon, Titania, and Puck; as a result Philostrate became infinitely more interesting in the play's last act. Five actors tripled parts, so that they each had one part in the love plot, one "rude mechanical" role, and one small part in the fairy world: Egeus-Quince-First Fairy, Hermia-Starveling-Mustardseed, Demetrius-Snout-Peaseblossom, Lysander-Flute-Mote, and Helena-Snug-Cobweb. Bottom, always himself whatever world he inhabits, was not paired with another character.
The fairy-human doubling worked thematically to convey to us that everyone participates in the magic of the fairy kingdom and in the joys and chaos of human society and to connect the local and cosmic levels of the play. The cross-gender casting among the rude mechanicals led to some fascinating cross-characterizations: Helena-Snug had to learn to roar like a lion; Starveling was almost as aggravated with the response to her portrayal of Moon by the carping nobles as Hermia was with that "tall personage" Helena. Demetrius redeemed himself as Wall, who ironically aids the commerce between lovers. Lysander redeemed himself through Flute's strong Thisbe, the one lover to rise to tragic...