Krannert delivers “A Dream” both frantic and pedantic

That every man should take his own, In your waking shall be shown: Jack shall have Jill; Nought shall go ill; The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.

Krannert’s season of classics continues with another adaptation of a Shakespearean work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The selection and method of appropriation, like that of The African Company Presents Richard III, reminds us that was is really at hand is not an exploration of the Western canon, but a considering of what it means to be a “canonical.” As the emended title, “it’s a bacchanal!,” suggests, this staging of the Dream is explicitly interested in the sexualized content the play suggests.

To that end, there were a lot of exposed bodies on stage, with instances of complete nudity in expected and some unexpected places. An excess of fairies were cast from undergraduate acting and dance majors, and they often remained on stage throughout the action, presenting an interested added layer of witnessing. And yet I found the naturalized aspect of nudity combined with much neon body paint a jarring contradiction. Aiming for a Caribbean feel, the costumes just ended up looking like tacky nock-offs from a rave and cheeping, in my mind, the polyamorous intimacies being staged. The intense sexual tenor of the action never wavered or varied, which resulted in creating two effects: a) flattening out of any potential emotional character development, and b) didn’t leave any room alternate readings of the play than the sexually-inflected.

This staging also worked to smooth over its traditionally ambiguous relationships, eliminating interesting sources of tension. One example of this is the kiss and hug Hermia (Sara Heller) receives from her father (Jeremiah Lowry) once Theseus (Jess Prichard) declares her knit with Lysander (Tyrone Phillips). It is an easy resolution to Egeus’ angry speech in the first act about progeny and possession. Similarly, the parts of Theseus and Oberon was double cast as well as Hippolyta and Titania (Jessica Dean Turner)–perhaps to make plain a political echo between the high and rustic plot hierarchies. While Titania’s lines are unavoidably aggressive towards Oberon, her version of Hippolyta (a captured Amazon) plays the witting and contented captive throughout. So while this casting choice suggests some potential politicized reading of the play, it is smoothed over with a lack of logical antagonism.

Fairy Costumes
C. Wilhelm’s nineteenth-century “Dream” costume designs.

The most unsettling element of this Dream as an audience member is the interpretive rift between the driven, frenetic energy of the fairies, and the pedantic method of verse delivery. Most of the actors were blocked in a way in which they prognosticated to the audience rather than engaging with each other. Every single syllable was slowly delivered in a sense of forced aurality, as if it was there intent that I hear every element of the text. Throughout the production I was painfully aware that I was listening to Shakespeare, and so didn’t get a chance to get lost in the play’s action. Aside from the intermittent crazed action from the non-speaking ensemble, the play sounded like a staged reading. This style of delivery, ironically, seemed to rob the actors of a sense of their lines’ meaning.

As an audience member this left me confused and anxious–unsure whether I was supposed to shut my eyes and focus on the verse or be consumed by the display of bodies and neon on stage. However, it must be said that the rustic’s play-within-a-play was done in a funny and smart way, toying knowledgeably with the meta-jokes imbedded in the dumb show parody. It is undoubtedly the production’s highlight, and Peter Quince (Carley Cornelius) steals a bit of the show with a clever delivery of the two prologues to Pyramus and Thisbe. In the end, every man has his mare, the aristocracy is stabilized, and the rustics are rewarded and returned to their proper place. Perhaps the only thing radical about this Dream was revealing our own anxiety and novelty associated with what is (or should have been) the production’s most natural part: the human body.

In the Playhouse / At the Cinema: “Romeo and Juliet”

I felt particularly spoiled this weekend as a play-goer. On saturday, all I had to do was walk a few block down to my local independent theatre to be completely and intimately immersed in the Globe experience. Opus Arte, an international arts production company, has in recent years began filming and distributing unique arts and theatre events to be screened widely when the production would not have otherwise been seen by those who could not physically be there. This weekend I was transported to a summer in London to see a beautiful production of Romeo and Juliet.

The production can only be described in terms of beautiful and accurate opulence. The Globe Theatre Company today specializes in original practices and reconstructing performances. They incorporate period music and instruments, continuous action, sparse props, and period costumes (not so lush as they could have been cast-offs from a wealthy household). The camera work was especially impressive in that I never once caught sight of a cameraman despite their ability to shoot the stage action from a variety of angles and depths of field. In fact, the only thing that may not have been accurate was the three-hour running time; no lines seem to have been cut from the playtext, which seems a fair enough trade off I suppose. Drums enhanced the excitement of the sword fights (choreography by Sian Williams), and the production even ended with a traditional jig–something entirely accurate but rarely done as many contemporary directors feel it doesn’t jive with tragedy.

The production was incredibly conscientious, sensitive to not only the visual but auditory nature of early modern drama. The ensemble was unwaveringly balanced, each player bringing a well-considered meaning and depth to their verse performances. The leads were surprisingly youthful: according to the theatre manager, Juliet (Ellie Kendrick) is only in her late teens and Romeo (Adetomiwa Edun) in his very early twenties. Kendrick played a fully-embodied Juliet, with the impetuous of youth but a girl thoughtful of her own future. Edun’s Romeo, while physically hyperbolic at times, was able to find a balance between morality and lovesickness.

In fact, the only scene that didn’t ring true was the lark-and-nightingale debate after Romeo and Juliet have spent their first night together. It is a scene that rarely falls flat in the many renditions I have seen, but there was no sense of intimacy between the lovers. And yet, the balcony scene was supurb, ironically suggesting the Kendrick and Edun do their best work apart. Mercutio has always been a favorite character of mine, and Philip Cumbus lent him a touch of madness not unnatural but that which springs from feeling too much of the world. Director Dominic Dromgoole did not shirk from the sexualized content nor gloss over phallic puns which are rife in the play. This is an adult production that does not pastoralize nor devalue love. The Globe is a massive performance space, and Dromgoole puts his actors to work to use all of it. The sense of largeness and mobility, coupled with the camera pans of the audience, captured the particular rowdy ambiance of the Renaissance stage experience. At moments that aura and vastness of the space, in a place and a time so far away, seemed overwhelming and yet maintaining an accessible sense authenticity.

  • Films like these are event cinema, meaning that they often have a very limited run constrained to one weekend or even a single evening. However, the Opus Arte website suggests that the film may eventually go on sale, so check for details.
  • For more information or directions to Champaign-Urbana’s Art Theatre, check out their website, here.