Director Patrick Kelly felt instinctively that the outdoor venue of the Mary Rippon Theater was the perfect place to stage A Midsummer Night's Dream. Because "we're practically in the woods already," Kelly says, he wanted to "exploit the outdoor venue as much as possible." To that end, he and scenic designer David Barber plan to incorporate elements into the set that suggest the Rippon and its outdoor setting. The live trees growing just offstage help to establish the forest as does the incorporation of trees in the set design. A flagstone base surrounds a large tree set center stage. This base mirrors the flagstone of the buildings that surround the theater. The production has what Kelly and the design team refer to as "a storybook look." Mary McClung's costumes reflect the element of fantasy present throughout the play. Incorporating yards of tulle, McClung's designs are as colorful and lush as the characters themselves. She describes the costumes of the Athenian characters Theseus and Hippolyta as "streamlined" and "focused" in distinct contrast to the "wispy" quality of the faeries' costumes. To provide a sense of continuous movement for the faeries, McClung has included feathers and other small elements that will remain in motion after the actors have stopped moving. Kelly would be pleased if this production served as an introduction to Shakespeare for some audience members. He describes his approach as "consciously naive in that our efforts is toward presenting Shakespeare's characters and their story in as accessible and straightforward a way as possible." A Midsummer Night's Dream promises to be a magical, romantic, "kid-friendly" production with something for everyone.
Theseus, Duke of Athens, plans his marriage ceremony with his bride-to-be, Hippolyta. They are interrupted by Egeus' complaint that his daughter Hermia loves Lysander and refuses to marry Demetrius whom Egeus has chosen as his future son-in-law. Theseus tells Hermia that she must obey her father and marry Demetrius or be put to death or become a nun. Lysander and Hermia concoct a plan to flee Athens the next night so that they can marry safely. They reveal their scheme to Hermia's friend Helena, who suffers an unrequited love for Demetrius. Helena resolves to tell Demetrius of the plan in the hope of winning his affections. Meanwhile, a group of amateur actors led by Quince the Carpenter and Bottom the Weaver assign parts for the play they hope to present at the Duke's wedding. In the forest outside Athens, Oberon, the king of the faeries, is angry after quarrelling with the queen Titania. She has adopted a young boy whom he desires as a page. When Titania refuses to hand over the boy, Oberon orders his servant, the mischievous Puck, to assist him in bewitching her. While Titania sleeps, Oberon applies a potion to her eyes that will cause her to fall in love with the first creature she sees upon waking. The faerie king observes Demetrius attempt to fend off the amorous Helena. Taking pity on her plight, he instructs Puck to magically assist her in winning her intended's love with the same love potion. Weary from their flight, Lysander and Hermia decide to rest for the night in the forest. Mistaking one Athenian gentleman for the other, Puck applies a magic potion to the sleeping Lysander's eyes. Upon awakening, Lysander sees and falls in love with Helena, who flees. He follows, abandoning Hermia. Bottom and his fellows gather to rehearse their "most lamentable comedy." Puck impulsively gives the weaver the head of an ass. Awakening, Titania falls in love with the donkey-domed Bottom. Oberon discovers Puck's mistake and applies the magic potion to Demetrius' eyes. Now both Athenian gentlemen love Helena who becomes convinced that they have conspired with Hermia to make her the butt of a very cruel joke. Lysander and Demetrius prepare to fight a duel to win Helena's love. Once again Oberon orders Puck to set things right with the lovers. The faerie imp rounds the young people up, puts them to sleep and applies a potion to Lysander's eyes that reverses the spell. Oberon, taking pity on Titania, releases her from her asinine infatuation and instructs Puck to return the weaver's human head. As morning breaks, Theseus and Hippolyta awaken the lovers and invite them to their wedding celebration. Bottom rejoins his fellows, eager to strut the nuptial stage. The wedding feast concludes with their sincere but disastrous performance.
"When stark reality weighs too heavily upon us, an all-wise Providence provides deliverance . . . A Midsummer Night's Dream is an invitation to escape reality, a plea for the glorious release to be found in sheer fantasy." The prolific theatre and film director Max Reinhardt made this comment in regard to his 1935 film of Shakespeare's play. Indeed, the playful and fantastical elements at the heart of A Midsummer Night's Dream have made it one of the most popular and most frequently performed in Shakespeare's canon. As Gary Jay Williams demonstrates in his book Our Moonlight Revels: A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Theatre, directors, designers, and actors have delighted audiences with a wide variety of interpretations. From 1905 to 1934 Max Reinhardt directed thirteen different productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Europe and the United States. Reinhardt, who was known for his use of spectacular effects, mounted real trees on a revolving stage to represent the woods near Athens. As scenes changed, the forest rotated to reveal new locations. Oberon made a dramatic entrance wearing a glowing crown and riding on the back of a stag. In 1934 at the Hollywood Bowl, Reinhardt and his design team erected a 250-foot wide, 100-foot deep stage and added hills, a pond, and a suspension bridge. This lavish production included a ballet corps, children playing faeries, and hundreds of extras. Reinhardt based his 1935 film on this production and used many of the same actors including thirteen-year-old Mickey Rooney as Puck. Tyrone Guthrie's 1937 production for the Old Vic incorporated the famous Midsummer Night's Dream score composed by Felix Mendelssohn and used extensively in productions of the play (including several of Reinhardt's earlier productions). At the Old Vic, Guthrie drew attention to the Athenian location by incorporating elements of Grecian architecture. The cast featured Ralph Richardson playing Bottom and Vivien Leigh as Titania. Peter Brook's renowned production for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1970 surprised audiences and critics alike. The set consisted of a simple white box that represented both Athens and the forest. In this athletic production, actors navigated the playing space using ropes, ladders, and swings and often appeared in the grid above the stage. Titania and Bottom reclined in a bower composed of bright red feathers. Critics praised the production for its bold and excitingly original approach to a classic work Inspired by the work of surrealist painter Rene Magritte and Brook's earlier production, Adrian Noble's 1994-1995 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company featured umbrellas, hung upside down, inside of which characters flew in and out of scenes. The umbrellas were set against a background of bare light bulbs. Throughout the play's long history, theatre artists and audiences have been drawn to A Midsummer Night's Dream and its playful world of lovers and faeries. At the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the tradition continues this summer.
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