Modernization of William Shakespeare’s timeless plots continues with fresh twists, multiple actors portraying the same character and use of the entire theatre in William & Mary Theatre’s upcoming production.
Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will run April 27-30 at the Kimball Theatre. Professor of Theatre Laurie Wolf is directing with Cecilia Funk ’24 serving as assistant director and Zach Townsley ’23 as movement coordinator.
In addition to those in formal leadership roles, all students involved have worked together in partnership with Wolf to shape the show’s direction.
“It’s a huge show,” Wolf said. “There are so many moving parts. I didn’t even realize it until we actually started doing it and started breaking it down.
“It’s really on par with a musical. You don’t have the orchestra pit or anything like that, but there are such distinct groups within the play and each scene is so intense. And they all eventually come together.”
The intertwined plot with four story lines involves a planned wedding between the duke of Athens and his Amazonian bride, four young lovers, a cadre of fairies and a group of tradespeople referred to as “mechanicals.”
Wolf started thinking about different interpretations of the show while looking at elements of “The Skriker,” which was premiered by English playwright Caryl Churchill in 1994.
“The skriker is described as a shape shifter and death portent,” Wolf said. “What Churchill’s play is all about is what happens when we stop believing in the old ways. Because the skriker’s also listed as being ancient and damaged. And there are all sorts of different fairies that come in throughout the play.
“It deals a lot with the English fairy tales and similar things. That was my point of departure that if we’re looking at this world where the fairy world and Athens marry each other, what is happening in government? How does that affect the people? How does that affect the creatures in the forest?”
Adding that the political aspect is only subtext, Wolf described where this show departs from tradition.
The character of Puck, one of the fairies, is played by three different actors to invoke a sense of magic — that Puck is everywhere. They each have different and distinct personalities.
“Puck is such a force of chaos,” said Emma Wilkie ’25, who plays one of the Pucks. “Having more than one Puck allows for more mischief and little bits and an expansion of what it can mean for there to be fantastical energy and chaos in a modern setting.”
Another fairy, Peaseblossom, is divided into two different and very unusual characters. All of the mechanicals are played by women.
“There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking,” Wolf said. “We’re using the house of the theatre a lot.”
Much of the play is about communication and miscommunication, so a language twist was added as well. Each of the mechanicals, except for Nick Bottom, speaks a different language.
“This started out because the one who I cast as Peter Quince is Chinese,” Wolf said. “And ‘Midsummer’s’ one of the very few Shakespeare plays that’s been translated into Chinese. And I thought wouldn’t that be interesting if they were all speaking a different language at times to each other, perfectly understanding each other, and Bottom is not. So we’re playing with that.”
The show is set in an unidentified contemporary time period, loaded with meta-theatrics and anachronisms, and undoubtedly influenced by several cast members currently taking the Queer Shakespeare course in the English department, according to Wolf.
She has encouraged students to toss out ideas to form a collaborative final production. That’s been met with boundless enthusiasm and energy.
“You never know with language how students will deal with it,” Wolf said. “And it just sounds like conversation, which is great. They’re really taking it on board and getting the humor out of it. Rehearsals are a riot. There’s just so much laughter going on.”
Though magic is, of course, present, it’s not the most important aspect of these fairies, according to Wilkie.
“While I appreciate ‘Midsummer’ being done in the traditional fantasy way, sometimes we need reminders that even in our modern times and everyday lives, there is levity,” Wilkie said. “Life is full of possibilities and the unexpected. And while a trio of fairies and their king might not mix things up and set things right again in real life, tiny funny things happen every day. We just have to laugh with them.”
Jennifer L. Williams, Communications Specialist