“Are you sure we are awake?” asks a dazed Demetrius after a perplexing night in the forest. Nick Bottom, the weaver, yawns: “I had a most rare vision. I’ve had a dream.”
That’s exactly the stuff that plays are made of, and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is perhaps the bard’s most bewitching romantic comedy about the intermingling of reason and fantasy in the mysterious world of dreams.
Durango High School Thespian Troupe 1096 has chosen to explore the play’s dazzling twists and turns in a spectacularly beautiful production. There are only two performances left this weekend. There were plenty of seats at Saturday’s matinee, so don’t be daunted by rumors of sold-out houses. A new ticketing system still has to work out glitches.
Because there is no synopsis in the program, it’s important to have a notion of the characters and plot, so here goes: “Dream” is a complicated play with a large cast divided into elites (rulers and young lovers), rough comical types known as Mechanicals, and supernatural figures. The action is divided into two worlds: a rational daylight realm ruled by politics, power and arranged marriages, and a parallel universe which comes alive at night in nature. It’s a fairy kingdom where spirits inhabit dreams and operate by irrational rules.
The play opens in an invented but so-called real world outside ancient Athens. Plans for a royal wedding are underway. Actor Liam Hahn underplays his power as the Duke of Athens as he and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (the regal Mandy Arcomano); consider preparations, including an amusement put on by working-class peasants.
The weaver Bottom (the boisterously confident Evatt Salinger) and his not-too-bright team concoct a show. We see a rough rehearsal in Act I and the finished work at the end of Act II at the wedding feast.
Into this hubbub, four young lovers enter with tangled relationships. Courtly preparations are interrupted as night approaches. The lovers’ antics, meetings and a planned escape overlap with Bottom’s rehearsals. All these goings on form the heart of the play and take place overnight in the magic forest.
When morning comes, all awake as from a dream; real world order is restored and the pairs are properly aligned. You have to see the plot twists to grasp the Shakespearian imagination.
The cast is too large to list in a review, but a few figures need mentioning. Oberon, king of the shadows (cunningly portrayed by Hugh Parsons), has a bristling relationship with Titania, queen of the fairies (played seductively by Emma Buchanan). Together, they manipulate nocturnal events with the aid of Robin Goodfellow, or Puck (the charming and energetic Emma Costello). Throughout the night, Puck muddles things up and causes more problems. Dashing from a swing placed above the audience, Puck races between Oberon’s lair and Titania’s loft. Dressed in a Felliniesque mixture of bowler hat, tails, black and white pants and an elfish green vest, Costello brings a debonair jauntiness to the role.
And rarely has the odd, lozenge shaped DHS theater space been so transformed.
The wide main stage functions as the Duke’s formal garden, divided from a quirky, irregular forest upstage by a black net light curtain. The left and right platforms evoke Oberon’s spooky man-cave and Titania’s sumptuous bedroom.
Director Winchester uses the entire playing area, including platforms and planks in the audience plus aisle entrances. In addition, huge billowing ribbons of fabric loop from the walls up to the ceiling creating a sense of being inside a theatrical tent. Credit White and his crew for transforming a pedestrian space into a magical realm.
Rachel Rodri’s costume and makeup team delivers a fresh mixture of formal suits, elegant dresses and comical combinations that add to the dreaminess of the production. Abby Jackson’s sound design includes a variety of music and effects; especially appreciated are the concertina and gypsy songs that brought the ghost of Federico Fellini to mind.
Winchester has adapted and shortened Shakespeare’s text to fit into two hours plus intermission. Some student actors have mastered the language and articulation, others have work to do. Volume and projection varies. A program synopsis would be helpful.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.