- A Midsummer Night’s Dreamby Stratford Festival, and: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Chamber Playby Stratford Festival
Faithful attendees of Shakespearean festivals everywhere can be pretty well guaranteed to encounter a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dreamon a regular rotation, perhaps every four or five years, as the producers cater to what is popular and what is on the secondary school English course curriculum. Collecting and comparing multiple Dreams is a perennial pastime for veteran theatergoers. In this vein, the Stratford Festival in their 2014 programming took the unusual step of offering not just the one obligatory Dream, but two. On selected dates throughout the season, the two productions were packaged together; audiences could see one at the matinee and the other in the evening. The juxtaposition of these two interpretations, witnessed in such close proximity, had an alchemical effect as the audience’s understanding of each taken separately was enriched by the reflected mutual comparison.
Directed by 2013 Siminovich Prize winner Chris Abraham, the first A Midsummer Night’s Dreamwas an expansive, joyful, metatheatrical romp. Taking the inset play of Pyramus and Thisbe, staged in celebration of the nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta, as its inspiration, Abraham’s Dreamadded an outer frame where Shakespeare’s play was itself performed in celebration of a wedding. In the outer frame world, the actors assumed the roles of guests at a summer backyard garden wedding who then partook in a spontaneous amateur performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dreamas part gift/part entertainment for the happy couple. The effect of this metatheatrical layering was to shift attention from the celebration [End Page 168]of a new romantic union to the celebration ofthat celebration. It was the patchwork community of the couple’s friends and family, various as any group of wedding guests will always be, that was at the center of this production. Festoons of tulle and sprays of flowers lining the aisles of the theater invited the audience, too, to be part of this congregation, assembled to affirm our faith in love and in marriage as keystones of society (Fig. 10).
Casting wedding guests in their own extempore A Midsummer Night’s Dreameffectively underscored an understanding of marriage not simply as a private declaration of love between two individuals but an affirmation of collective values and the bonds of community. The interplay between the social connections of the guests and their secondary practical affiliations as a company of performers engaged in a common task highlighted the way that not only the legal ritual of marriage, but also the celebration that follows that ceremony, serve to unite disparate people, forging new circles surrounding the newly bonded pair. A sense of that pleasure in community was evident throughout this production. Little girl wedding guests donned dress-up Dollar Store wings over their party dresses to become a mischievous band of roving fairies. Assisting Oberon to restore the lovers to their correct pairings, they formed a swarm to subdue the grownups by climbing on their backs and clinging to their legs. An on-stage DJ provided the soundscape for the performance, mixing nighttime noises with danceable pop tunes. When the full cast joined in the boisterous dance party at the end, Theseus (or the guest playing Theseus) cut it short, ruefully remonstrating...