There's a popular sentiment that perhaps theatre criticism would be best left in the hands and keyboards of active theatre artists. A prime example might be BroadwayWorld.com's own Duncan Pflaster; a playwright whose work is has trodded several Off-Off Broadway boards in recent years while he continues to evaluate the work of his peers on the pages of this web site.
His new play, The Thyme of the Season, running through June 23rd as part of the 2nd Annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, offers a sequel to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some might say that a playwright must be drunk to open himself up to the critical scrutiny that would no doubt accompany his audacity to take up where the greatest playwright of the English language left off. While I won't attempt to guess at the sobriety level of Pflaster and the play's co-conceiver when the idea first took flight, as in the birth of many great artistic endeavors, there were libations involved.
"Clara Barton Green and I were drinking one night after a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream she was in, and she came up with the idea of a sequel, in the vein of the second half of The Fantasticks (which was a deconstruction of the source material of Rostand's The Romancers) and the 2nd act of Into the Woods (which similarly examines and deconstructs fairy tale happy endings). Though Midsummer is an amazing play to do and see, there are a few strange inconsistencies in our modern times; for example, how Demetrius is essentially given a permanent date-rape drug and forced to marry his ex, who'd been stalking him. We set it on Hallowe'en, since we both love the holiday and, as I later realized, it's exactly three months from Midsummer. And there's a certain frightening aspect to fairydom which is only touched upon in Midsummer, which fits in well with the spookiness of Hallowe'en. The more we joked about it, the more it seemed like a really good idea."
His adaptation has Titania and Oberon needing to pay their 7-yearly tithe to Hell by finding a human soul to sacrifice. Puck's been ensorcelled by a witch so that he can't sleep and there's a new autumn fairy, Pumpkinseed, who has fallen in love with him. Meanwhile, Helena is pregnant, Demetrius thinks she's cheating, Lysander is exploring his feminine side and Hermia is unsatisfied while Bottom has become "a huge famous rich ass."
"The script was mainly written while I was playing Bottom in a production of Midsummer that Clara's company, Holla Holla Productions, produced outdoors in Central Park in 2005. Being inside the play and hearing it over and over gave me incredible insight into the characters and their situation, and allowed me some major inside jokes, since lines from Midsummer are repeated in The Thyme of the Season but usually spoken by different characters or with a different twist. And I also wanted to explore the romanticism of Keats, especially his concept of Negative Capability. His poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci was also an inspiration. I drew on the story of Tam-Lin/Thomas the Rhymer as well, for one of my plots. And the transformative power of masks and disguises became a Hallowe'en-based theme."
"The main challenge in writing the play was getting the tone right; Midsummer is a very strange play in that it blends three entirely disparate worlds together; the old European mythological construct of fairies, Ancient Greece for the lovers, and then the contemporary story of Bottom and the mechanicals, and lets them all coexist. I tried to honor that throughout. I'm always asked if the play is in iambic pentameter; it is so about as often as Midsummer is. I go into and out of verse styles and rhyming depending on who's speaking, just as Shakespeare did. I hope one day to see a production done in repertory with Midsummer."
Photos by Nancy Keegan: Top: Shawn McLaughlin as Lysander and Rebecca Hirota as Hermia; Bottom: Tania Jeudy as Pumpkinseed and Michelle Ramoni as Titania.
Posted on June 07, 2010 - by
About the Author: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.