- Reviewed by
In a mesmerizing union of beauty and grotesquery, the Actors Shakespeare Company achieved the textual depth that Midsummer deserves (but does not always receive on stage) in their Spring 2010 performance of the play. By exposing the comic tragedy of reality—that which exists within the fissures separating life as we know it from life as we dream it to be, the ASC highlighted the splendor of this popular piece: magical enchantment sharply underscored by the real human fear of loss. Realistic character intention [End Page 395] and an interpretation of Puck as a wild yet subordinate female figure tightly intertwined the not-so-hilarious themes of loss and “otherness.”
The ASC shifted swiftly between the lovesick chaos of the human world, the distorted artistic endeavor of the craftsmen’s world, and the foliaged mystery of the fairy world (marked by stenciled light gels that cast spiraling vine-like shadows across the stage). Appearing to privilege the fairies’ forest dwelling, however, the production centered all three realms on or around the same arboreal set piece: a near redwood-sized tree-stump that raised the center stage area by at least a foot and a half. Accented by life-like age rings and flowers strewn amongst the roots, the stump also elevated nearly all of the play’s significant moments. It served as a private refuge for the Athenian lovers as they planned their departure for the wood in 1.1; a type of bacchanal lair for the love-drunk Titania and her “sweet love,” Bottom in 4.1; and as a humble stage upon which the craftsmen performed Pyramus and Thisby in 5.1.
Despite the hilarity that ensued on and around the stump, as a tree that once was, the set piece served as a lonely reminder of the loss that bridged the worlds. Merging all three settings, it served as a stark platform for the royal, the human, the artistic, the magical, the silly, and the serious, emphasizing the subjective, yet universal, link between experience and environment. On or around the remains of this long-lost tree, the audience saw Egeus lose his eloping daughter to Lysander; saw Helena lament the loss of Demetrius’s short-lived love and bemoan her role as the only lover lacking the affection of another; saw Oberon avenge the loss of his recently stolen young Indian prince; saw Hermia lose her true love, her best female friendship, and her self-confidence as she became the excluded and unwanted; and saw, despite his procurement of the title role in the Pyramus and Thisby play, Bottom mourn the loss of every other role that was assigned to his fellow craftsmen.
Though comical in its absurdity, Bottom’s insistence in 1.2 that he was perfect for every single part was underscored by a truth that most eventually come to realize—in the “real” world, we can’t fill every role that we can dream of filling. Bottom’s inability to recognize the difference between that which can be real and that which can only be dreamt, was perhaps what made his character charmingly childlike rather than egotistical.
The lovers, however, did seem painfully aware of the loss that fills the gap between reality and dreams; in fact, the ASC portrayed the lovers with such refreshing realism that they seemed undeserving of Puck’s famous criticism: “…what fools these mortals be!” The...