It is a challenge for any director to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the most beloved works by Shakespeare. Famous productions include Charles Kean’s 1856 production with scenery of an imagined ancient city of Athens with the Pantheon, Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s 1900 production with illusionary scenery for the exterior/interior of the palace and the woods, and Peter Brook’s 1970 production with black and white floors and walls, ladders, and swings.
The Great Lakes Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Joseph Hanreddy, emphasizes the ambiguity between reality and dream, creating scenery with contrasting, opposing, and yet related stage elements.
To blur the two worlds, scenic designer Scott Bradley used, as his inspiration, Lori Nix’s photography of her installation “The Library” which presents the interior of a deserted library with books, trees and broken chairs. In this production, the tall, old, and “distorted” bookcases situated on both sides of the stage suggest the futility of human lives, while suggesting a repository of ancient wisdom and knowledge of magic.
A-three-level main performing area plus a balcony (upstage) allow the performers to act across different levels of realities and dreams. Two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, four arch openings which repeat from center stage to upstage, tree branches, and flowers hung from a crochet mat, evoke a mysterious, mischievous, dark, and dangerous ambience that suggests both Athens and the woods.
At the beginning of the show, in the heartless and dangerous human world, the old patriarch Egeus (Aled Davies) demands the execution of his daughter Hermia (Michelle Pauker) who will not obey his order to marry Demetrius (Jon Loya) because she is already in love with Lysander (Corey Mach). However, Lysander is frivolous, parading his charms and wits to “conquer” Hermia. Thus, rather than juxtaposing the rational (Athens) and chaos (the woods), Hanreddy’s human world is, ironically, equally chaotic to the extent that the magic applied by Puck (M. A. Taylor) in the woods is caused by self-indulgence and impulsiveness in the human world. After all, Demetrius never wakes up from Puck’s magic spell at the end.
The performers compliment this approach that Hanreddy has taken. Mach and Loya, as immature, irresponsible Lysander and Demetrius, want to score their trophies. Keri René Fuller’s Helena and Pauker’s Hermia, though different in height, are both physical, impulsive, and aggressive. Pauker’s relentless physical “attack” against Helena and Helena’s defense and counter-attack in the woods illuminate the battle between the two young women who are not affected by Oberon’s magic spell, but nonetheless incapable of grasping the situation.
Theseus/Oberon (Nick Steen) and Hippolyta/Titania (Jillian Kates) underscore the similarity between humans and fairies in animosity, jealousy, and prejudice. It is cruel that Oberon watches his queen Titania have sex with Nick Bottom (David Anthony Smith) while it is equally unjust that Theseus treats Hippolyta as his property. While Nick Bottom’s lust and infatuation with Titania and her equally strong infatuation for Bottom are caused by Oberon’s magic spell, in this production the audience wonders if Titania’s self-indulgence has led her to believe what she sees is someone extremely handsome and attractive, not just an ass.
The mechanicals serve as a respite from the chaos, while bringing a new level of “chaos” due to their self-absorption. In this production, the performers who play the mechanicals also play the fairies, establishing the symbiosis between humans and the spirits.
Costume designer Rachel Laritz has “updated” the costumes for the young lovers and the mechanicals. Hermia wears a stark blue dress in the beginning, and later in the woods, she puts on white pants and a sleeveless shirt. Lysander and Demetrius are dressed, in the court scene, in casual pants and jackets but their shirts are torn and muddy after they spend some time in the woods. Oberon’s black attire and huge feathered headdress blur the distinction between Oberon and Puck. The mechanicals in this production are a building contractor (Peter Quince, played by Tom Ford) and his workers, linking the world of Shakespeare with a contemporary audience.
Lighting designer Rick Martin lights the downstage area brighter while dimming upstage to emphasize the magical, dark, and dangerous elements of both worlds.
Original music created by the sound designers Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen evokes the mysterious, enigmatic and foreboding ambiences, while “How Sweet It Is” at the end suggests irony and sarcasm.
Great Lakes Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed in repertory with the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The three actors who play the young lovers in A Midsummer—Keri René Fuller, Corey Mach, and Jon Loya—play, respectively, Esmeralda, Quasimodo, and Phoebus De Martin in The Hunchback, demonstrating their versatility as well as the chemistry of the ensemble.