“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Part 1

By Adam Versényi, Dramaturg, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Titania and Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV-1) (c. 1790) oil on canvas. By Henry Fuseli . London, Tate Gallery

Both James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream trade upon the familiar. Into the Woods draws upon our familiarity with various fairytales, while A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-6) is perhaps the most familiar of Shakespeare’s comedies. How many reading these notes have heard of the play, studied the lines or performed them on stage, heard Mendelssohn’s music, viewed Fuseli’s painting, seen Balanchine’s ballet or Reinhardt’s film? Such familiarity creates a sense of expectation as we encounter each new rendition.

But familiarity also poses a danger. Will our memories too heavily shape our reception, blinding us as thoroughly as the juice of the magical flower blinds the eyes of the midsummer’s night lovers? With this new production, rehearsed and prepared for you, PlayMakers Repertory Company invites you to re-hear and revisit the play with us. If this is your first time viewing A Midsummer Night’s Dream of the play, welcome to its world.

Imagination is the driving force of the play. Theseus and Hippolyta imagine a new relationship based upon harmony and concord rather than conquest and heated battle. The four young lovers imagine and enact a constantly shifting web of relationships between themselves. Meanwhile, the Athenian craftsmen imagine something quite different for themselves as they prepare to perform Pyramus and Thisbe for the Duke’s wedding. Finally, Oberon and Titania imagine a fairy realm that replaces disjunction and discord with amity and love.

But in the world of Athens, where the humans come from, the imagination is largely constrained. The city is a rectilinear place ruled by law and absolute parental and governmental authority. A number of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It being the most prominent, depict worlds in which his characters escape parental and governmental authority by fleeing to the forest. The characters’ sojourn in “the green world” changes both them and the authoritarian environment they have fled. By the time they return, the characters have grown and the strictures of society have been loosened to the benefit of all.

To be continued Thursday…

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at PlayMakers November 1 – December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.