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Vulgarity and Violence Turn Shakespeare’s Dream into A Cock and Bull Nightmare Hot

Denise BattistaDenise Battista   May 25, 2008  
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Vulgarity and Violence Turn Shakespeare’s Dream into A Cock and Bull Nightmare

Photos: Tristram Kenton

  • Midsummer Night's Dream
  • by William Shakespeare
  • Adapted by Tim Supple
  • Dash Arts
  • May 6 - June 1, 2008
Acting 2
Costumes 3
Sets 3
Directing 2
Overall 2

Once upon a time, there were some hard-handed men as well as four lovers who journeyed into the woods. They happened upon some fairies and a hobgoblin who sprinkled them with fairy magic. Suddenly, their lives were o’ertaken by violence, two near rapes, an enormous and reddened phallus bouncing ‘round, and an explanation of all this action in seven of eight tongues of which I am not anywhere near native.

Director Tim Supple’s “re-imagined” Dream makes its 2008 North American premiere at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco after debuting in 2006 in India and at Italy’s Verona Festival, followed by a sold-out run at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then various runs to full houses in the UK, India, and Australia in 2007. The production boasts to incorporate six Indian and two Sri Lankan dialects into this English language performance. It seems more appropriate to say that English is occasionally incorporated, and even with like the back of your hand knowledge of this play, Supple’s Dream proves difficult to grasp.

Language barriers aside, the cast turns to highly physical theatre in order to attempt to tell the audience about their Dream, ranging from strong and emotional gestures, mediocre to fairly impressive Cirque du Soleil-esque rope tricks, rhythmic South Asian dancing, to well-choreographed wrestling matches led by choreographers D. Padmakumar and M. Palani, all set to the tune of Music Director Devissaro’s onstage musicians providing impressive percussive beats to which this multi-cultural troupe struts and frets their two and half hours upon the stage.

The Curran Theater does not offer fair sight of Sumant Jayakrishnan’s set design (Jayakrishnan is also responsible for this production’s sexy and vibrant costuming), although the draped jungle gym of a backdrop is intriguing and brilliantly lit by Zuleikha Chaudhari’s lighting design. Down stage center is a separate plot of ground (the stage floor is covered with dry soil) measuring about 2’x 8’, in which lies what looks to be a walking stick. How do I know this? I took a moment to walk to the edge of the stage, stand on my toes, and take a peek at what ought to be somehow revealed to the audience at some point during the play. Then again, it would be nice to gauge the purpose of this “plot,” and I mean that in the broadest sense of the word. There is also an interesting instrument down center that when rubbed the right way by either and only Philostrate or Puck, both characters played with pizzazz by Ajay Kumar, produces a vibrating tone reminiscent of a Tibetan prayer bowl. The sound somehow enters the soul in a dreamy sort of way, but finding method in its measure is a mystery.

It’s difficult to focus on anything but the overt vulgarity of this production. It is sexual, not sensual. It is violent, not dramatic. It leads one to gasp rather than sigh. It moves up a lot of dinner reservations, as a high percentage of the audience on opening night did not return after intermission. Perhaps it is the incoherent and overplayed screaming of J. Jayakumar (Egeus) as he ferociously reprimands his daughter for disobeying his orders. Perhaps it is the shock of Hermia’s infidelity to Lysander when she falls into lusty embrace with Demetrius (Prasanna Mahagamage). Perhaps it is Lysander’s (Chandan Roy Sanyal) violent attempted rape of Helena. Perhaps it is the fact that it’s impossible to fall in love with Nick Bottom the Weaver (Joy Fernandes) when he is such a barbaric animal, growling, stomping with his arms gigantically above him, and lugging around a huge and bouncing bright red dildo roped around his groin as he literally and repeatedly “moos” in ecstasy and does a loutish dance in celebration that takes one back to an era that one ought to leave well enough alone. Yes, the dreaded “lawnmower” era. Perhaps it’s because the Curran Theater is hot as Hades, or perhaps it’s the not quite adequately-performed physical theatre that fails to speak all the lines that are missing in this production, even if you look in between. If this is the future of Shakespeare, then I must be getting damned old.

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