HTP brings glam rock to ‘Midsummer’
“Are you sure that we are awake?” Demetrius (Raphael Stigliano ’18) asks Hermia (Tova Weinberger ’18) in Hold Thy Peace’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He continues, “It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”
And indeed, the ’80s-themed play is so full of sharp contrasts—Shakespeare’s centuries-old writing emerging from the mouths of the young, energetic cast as they leap around a modern, graffitied set while fairies dance to David Bowie music—that it takes on a decidedly dreamlike, if occasionally jarring, feel.
The play ran from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon this past week in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater, drawing viewers from the cold rain outside. Though the audience was relatively small when I saw the play on Thursday, the cast’s animated antics, which ranged from frolicking to fistfighting, made the theater seem lively, almost bustling. Puck (Sara Kenney ’18) bounded from a crouch on the stage’s floor to a proud pose on the set’s balcony; Lysander (Connor Wahrman ’17) and Demetrius chased Helena (Barbara Rugg ’15) in dizzying figure eights; Helena and Hermia drove each other back and forth across the floor. The giant, impressive set, which boasted spray painted Ionic columns and two levels, allowed the actors to take advantage of the full space of the stage.
Director Alex Davis ’15 brought a clear new voice to Midsummer. A number of lines were reinterpreted to add humor and depth to the work. And although some of these jokes involved splitting lines slightly awkwardly, they never failed to bring hearty laughs from the audience.
The acting was phenomenal. While the disparity among the different characters’ accents was confusing—accents ranging from New Yorker to British, emotion was present in every line and every gesture showed something about a character. The physical comedy of the play matched the verbal comedy and the actors made the meaning of all of their lines clear to the audience. The play’s casting also gave Midsummer a new meaning. Ryan Kacani ’15 played the fairy king Oberon who is highly conflicted about his relationship with his wife Titania (Sophie Greenspan ’15). Kacani’s Oberon, jealous of his wife’s affection for her adopted son, laughed as he planned an elaborate prank to make Titania become “enamored of an ass.” But the bitterness in his voice showed his recognition of the irony of punishing what he sees as his wife’s unfaithfulness by making her fall in love with someone else.
LOST IN LOVE: From left to right, Demitrius, Helena and Lysander (Conor Wahrman ’17) look across the stage at Hermia.
THE “M” WORD: Hermia (Tova Weinberger’18) talks to Duke Theseus (Ryan Kacani ’15), telling her she can’t marry Lysander and must marry Demetrius.
MAKE AN ASS OUT OF YOU: Titania (Sophie Greenspan ’15) is shown here fawning over Bottom (Riely Allen ’18) who has been turned into a donkey by Puck the fairy.
The complexity of Oberon’s relationships was further intensified by Kenney’s Puck, who, as she gleefully carried out Oberon’s bidding, occasionally shot wistful glances in his direction, suggesting a private yearning for her master. Kenney portrayed Puck as spiteful and compassionate in turn, creating tremendous depth in a character whose sole function would otherwise be to merely move the plot along. Though Kenney’s dramatic ability certainly gave Puck the necessary depth to show such a complex relationship with Oberon, the directorial decision to cast a female Puck undoubtedly reframed the context of that relationship. This made the interactions between them tenser and more layered as well as much more interesting.
Though HTP’s Midsummer was brimming with conflict, forbidden love and misfortune, it was not without its laugh-out-loud moments. Weinberger’s Hermia had the entire audience laughing at her outraged response to Helena’s insults about her height, and Riely Allen ’18 gave a hilariously convincing performance as Bottom, the overstated, self-important leader of a band of players called the mechanicals. Amanda Ehrmann ’18 was also hysterical as the mechanical Snout. Her unabashed portrayal of the Wall in the Midsummer’s climax, a mind-blowing play within a play, was one of the show’s funniest moments, as two of the other mechanicals kneeled onto the floor and spoke to each other through her waist.
In spite of the undertones of seriousness and irony, the merriment and energy of the play defined its character, and in the end, as Davis wrote in the director’s note on the first page of the playbill, “the weirdos win.”
The play, in all its surreal humor and otherworldly tones, was a success and an excellent way to kick off the Halloween weekend. With a stellar cast, an interesting new take on character relationships and a striking set, the play was professional, funny and a pleasure to watch.