fter four days of headaches and lethargy, it's good to be able to get out of bed again for a sustained length of time. I took in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream
tonight with Aaron and Dawn Smith, and a friend of theirs, an undergraduate here named Janice. Tony Bonta was supposed to have joined us but was called away on family business at the last minute. We had a late start, so for anyone who has actually eaten with me and knows why I'm generally considered the Slowest Eater Alive, this makes the fact that we actually ended up having 15 minutes with our entrees at the Water Street Brewery quite an adventure in itself. I wolfed down my Rosemary Chicken Breast, red potatoes (a bit overstuffed with sour cream), and beans/onions in record time, aided by the fact that I spoke a record-low two sentences while eating. (My gift of the gab highly related to the plodding pace of my eating.) I'm normally not a huge Chardonnay fan, but it can go amazingly well with a Rosemary Chicken I've learned here, and so I've gotten partial to that combination since arriving here in Milwaukee.
The venue was the Boulevard Theatre
on Kinnickinnic, which meant that we had to fly from the Brewery. It was my first time there, and was a small, functional old storefront space with perhaps seating for sixty. The show was an interesting take: they set the whole thing in Texas in the 1950s, accents and all. They gave a scholarly justification for this, citing some unnamed study that argued the accent of the South being closest to the popular accent of Shakespeare's day. Regardless, I had been a bit doubtful of the setting from when I'd heard about it, although I'd only heard about the "fifties" part of it, so I was expecting the set of Grease
more than the dusty diner with Pasty Cline on the radio.
It was in fact the music that worked most strongly in the setting. All the points in our text where there are directions for song and occasionally dance were all belted out live by the cast from (mostly) period pieces of that early Country Western genre that were well-picked for either their value in affirming the setting or for gags building off of the story. It let the music expectations of the play really become a significant part of the production rather than the "what do we do here?" interruption that I often feel is the result of these more obscure aspects of the plays.
The other point that was perhaps the most distinctive was the emphasis on the bawdy humour of the piece. This production ran with that side of the gags much more fully than any other I've seen. (And I've seen A Midsummer Night's Dream
produced more than any other Shakespeare: this was probably my fifth or sixth production of it. I really think that A Midsummer Night's Dream
has become the
Shakespeare play of our generation or culture, in the same way that Romeo and Juliet
was "the" play in the 60s-70s, and Julius Caesar
--my personal favourite--the play before that. Why this is, if it is true, is worth a discussion of its own.) But as I was saying, this play ran with the bawdy moreso than any other production I've ever seen, most of which either downplayed it, or, one suspects, didn't even recognize much of it. This one ran up to the borderline of the obscene at times, I suppose, but always did so with great fun and humour. I gather from Amy Kull, a friend of Dawn's who was playing Hermia (who I'd met at their Oscar party the other week, but who tonight reminded me incredibly of Miggie McCurry née
Clemency), that the review of the production from the Journal-Sentinel
didn't care for that at all, which I now see is true, having found their review and linked it here. I agree with it that the final scene's meditation on the art of the play was somewhat obscured, but I've often found that it can feel tacked-on; that the fifth act of the play seems an awkward shift and a let-down from what went on before. It's a rare cast that can really draw you into that reflective moment and make it feel and be the climax of the play.
Some of the cast were able to work with the accent and dialogue more effectively than others, with Titania (played by one Carol Hirschi) being perhaps the real standout in that regard, turning her cheap and tacky Texas fairyness (complete with Big Hair and cowboy hat for a night of line dancing) into some astonishing moments of character conversation and reflection. The Elizabethan English that is hard to read without notes, but which becomes so clear when heard from the lips of an actor who knows what they're doing and saying, received just that kind of treatment from her as she combined the rhythms and cadences of the dialect with those of the text in the way that the director no doubt hoped to achieve across the board. Her hungover roll in the hay with the "translated" Bottom was perhaps the most over-the-top piece of bawdy in the entire production, and not something I'd have let kids see, but didn't stretch the text out of proportion: my guess is that we're so not
used to seeing it that we have long missed a lot of what was there, even in this most famous moment of bestiality in Western art. So I'd sum up by saying that I probably laughed more in this production than I have in most of the others, but that the "higher" side of the play is what became most cloudy in what was perhaps not a consistently