BWW Reviews: cell & Hive's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - A Fresh Twist on a Classic
Is it coincidence that the cell and the Hive Theater decided to produce a contemporary, gender-bending take on Shakespeare's classic comedy, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" just as the gay marriage law was passed in New York City? While both cast and creative team may not have had the foresight to predict the exact timing of this historic event, they certainly had the vision to turn this classic story upside down and make the audience reconsider the message it has to send.
The cell and The Hive Theater Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is part of the "Summer of Lust" series, currently running through July 31st at the cell. From the moment the lights go down, it is evident that this is not your 10th grade English class's Shakespeare. Scene changes are paired with music from Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and M.I.A., settings include a bowling alley and a dance club and characters communicate with one another using their BlackBerrys and iPhones. Yet perhaps the greatest modification in this unique adaptation is the decision to make the two featured couples of the story gay.
"About 9 months ago, I sat down with the script and reread it for the first time in years.," explains Director Matthew A.J. Gregory. "It became abundantly clear to me that the major conflict in the play is around choice and marriage. In Shakespeare's day, that was about the lack of choice that women had. It struck me instantly that in 2011, the real issue here in terms of choice and marriage would be around same-sex marriage."
These issues present themselves throughout the production and challenge the characters to take a stand. As the story begins, we meet young Hermia, who is refusing to follow her father, Egeus' wish to marry his choice for a husband, Demetrius. Instead, she pleads with him to allow her to marry her true love, Lysander, who in this production is played by a woman. While the text of the play is classic, one immediately begins to question Egeus' stern reaction to his daughter's request. Is he upset that his daughter is not obeying his wishes, or rather is he refusing to accept the fact that his daughter is in love with another woman?
"A character like Egeus often comes across as a monster because he is forcing his daughter to wed according to his wishes, when Lysander really does seem like a perfectly good choice." contends Gregory. "By making Lysander a woman I thought it actually humanizes Egeus and shows a father who, if misguided and bigoted, is coming from a place of love and care for his daughter."
Similarly, the character of Helena, played by a male, is in love with Demetrius, who at first is repulsed by Helena's lust. Again, one wonders if Demetrius' reaction is due to the fact that his love interests lie with Hermia, or if he is perhaps denying his true feelings for his male pursuer.
By the end of the play, Demetrius no longer requires Puck's magic "love juice" to realize that he indeed has deep feelings for Helena. This is, in a sense, Demetrius' "coming out" as he whole-heartedly embraces his sexuality. All ends happily for Hermia as well, as her father comes to accept her lesbian relationship and to realize that in the end, her happiness is all that really matters.
The fine cast of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is quite effective in creating the modernized Shakespearean world that the director had envisioned. Meghan Grace O'Leary plays both Hippolyta and Oberon. As she seamlessly switches back and forth between roles, she seems to channel Johnny Depp's, ‘Jack Sparrow' in her performance as the conniving King of the Fairies. Michael Raver, as an amorous, woeful Helena, brings down the house with his superb comic timing. Chris Critelli, as the pill popping, edgy Puck, uncannily transforms himself into a menagerie of creatures with a host of sinister qualities.
Throughout the entire creative process, the driving force for Gregory, the cell and the Hive was to produce a Shakespearean play which had a great deal of relevance to a modern audience, specifically Chelsea in 2011. "We wanted to try to break all of the stereotypes and clichés that have shackled "Midsummer Night's Dream" to a very limited interpretation and make it fun and fresh," he explains. "It's remarkable to me, a few centuries later, the issues are still just as alive, they've just somehow changed shape."
The cell and The Hive Theater Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is currently playing at the cell in tandem with "Bad Evidence" as part of the ‘Summer of Lust' series. For tickets and more information, please visit: http://www.thecelltheatre.org/