Photo by Jon Gardiner

If you’ve been with us before, then you likely already know Ray Dooley‘s work. This season marks Ray’s 25th anniversary as a company member of PlayMakers.

In our current production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ray plays three different parts, Philostrate, Snug, and the legendary Puck. Portrayed as Theseus’s (Zachary Fine) chief-of-staff, Ray characterizes Philostrate as part muscle, part concierge.

Zachary Fine as Theseus, Arielle Yoder as Hermia and Ray Dooley as Philostrate
Photo by Jon Gardiner

Snug is a member of the mechanicals, amateur actors who present the unwittingly hilarious play-within-the-play. When Snug, who is prone to panic attacks, is cast as the lion, he ends up being more of the cowardly variety, “a gentle beast.”

Photo by Jon Gardiner 

Of course, it is his Puck that drives the play and spins the rest of the characters into their dizzied states. Ray refers to him as “a country spirit,” rooted deeply in the folklore of Shakespeare’s time. Helpful or harmful, he embodies mystery and superstition to explain why things happen beyond our understanding when we step away from society into the wild unknown.

In developing his character, Ray drew inspiration from the John Milton poem L’Allegro. Filled with pastoral images of nymphs and goblins full of joy and mischief among the birds and trees and citing even Shakespeare himself, it is evident Milton had the very Puck in mind when writing it. We have all sides of him, from the unbridled and fanciful:
     Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee
     Jest and youthful Jollity,
     Quips and Cranks, and wonton Wiles,
     Nods, and Becks, and Wreathed Smiles

to the hard-working and dutiful:
     Tells how the drudging Goblin swet,
     To ern his Cream-bowle duly set,
     When in one night, ere glimps of morn,
     His shadowy Flale hath thresh’d the Corn
     That ten day-labourers could not end,
     Then lies him down the Lubbar Fend,
     And stretch’d out all the Chimney’s length,
     Basks at the fire his hairy strength

Ray Dooley as Puck and Zachary Fine as Oberon
Photo by Jenny Graham

Among the most formative moments within the rehearsal process were “essence pieces” that director Shana Cooper employed. Actors were given a separate space to develop their own 10-15 minute scenes which gave them room to explore their characters more deeply as well as their relationships with others beyond Shakespeare’s text. They used props, everything from ladders to flower petals to buckets of snow. What they came up with helped strengthen their understanding of their roles, and some bits even ended up on stage, such as Puck’s playful ladder-balancing act to depict his transformative abilities.

Photo by Jon Gardiner
It is amusing to draw a parallel between Ray‘s description of Puck as a shape-shifter and Ray‘s own work on our stage during this production. Slipping in and out of three different roles with three different costumes is no easy feat. Some of his costume changes are so quick they need to happen onstage in mere seconds with the aid of carefully rehearsed lighting cues. In fact, there are times, such as during Bottom’s (Julie Fishell) return, when he is actually wearing all three costumes at once. Don’t look, but Snug has Philostrate’s hat tucked under his arm!

Photo by Jon Gardiner
We’ll explore more deeply Puck’s devotion as servant to his master Oberon (Zachary Fine) in our next post later this week when we sit in on a conversation between Zach and Ray about their onstage and offstage relationship.

In the meantime, don’t miss your last chance to catch A Midsummer Night’s Dream! The show closes this Sunday, December 7, so Click Here get your tickets today.