Though the evening certainly didn’t feel like a midsummer’s night, Shakespeare-lovers packed Hutchinson Courtyard last Friday evening to see the Deans’ Men perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Directed by second-year Evan Cudworth, this rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies was as accessible as it was charming. The play felt like an update, but, unlike Leonardo DiCaprio’s infamous turn as Romeo, managed not to compromise the integrity of the Bard’s work. The script was unabridged, but the costumes and score were totally 2007. Accompanied by a soundtrack of modern-day pop and indie hits, featuring Regina Spektor, the fairies pranced around the makeshift stage in white tank dresses and black leggings. Even though they looked like they could have danced out of an H&M ad, the sprites did not seem to be out of place. If anything, their minimalist costumes allowed their enchanted acting to take center stage.
My favorite aspect of the performance was its location. “This is the perfect play to set outside,” says publicity chair Brittany Machion. “You look up, and there’s a canopy of trees. It really does look like a forest!” Three Grecian pillars and black backdrops, offset by strands of white tea lights, were the only additions to the natural environment. I had my doubts about producing a play on a stage dominated by a dry fountain, but the actors incorporated the preexisting architecture brilliantly. The fountain became the center of activity: an enchanted spring where the fairies rested and played, and a perfectly placed obstacle in altercations between Lysander (Mike Wawszczak) and Demetrius (Danny Riemer).
The overcast sky looked formidable, and Cudworth said that, in the event of rain, the show would go on. Machion said that one of the challenges of holding the play outside was that the weather in Chicago—as anyone who has spent a quarter here knows—is unpredictable, to say the least. Hearing and seeing the performers was also a challenge. The play was performed without microphones, and sometimes the actors were drowned out by sirens, helicopters, and the noise of a college campus. Since the stage was not elevated, if you were sitting on one of the chairs behind a tall individual, you were out of luck. Spots on the grass afforded better views but made it more difficult to hear the performers.
Despite all of these difficulties, I was glad that the cast and crew stepped up to the, challenge of producing a play outdoors. In addition to resembling both a forest and a castle, the location allowed the audience to participate in the spectacle.
Activity took place on all sides of the stage, situating the audience right in the middle of the mixed-up world. The cast often entered the stage area from behind the audience, who sat in folding chairs and on the grassy knolls around the courtyard. The interaction between the audience and the cast made the comedy all the more hilarious. Fairies flitted around the chairs and placed wreaths of leaves on the heads of unsuspecting theatergoers who probably had not expected to become a part of the action.
Though the entire ensemble cast was excellent, a few actors stood out as crowd favorites. One was Carmel Levy, in the roles of Bottom and Pyramus. Levy played the roles with hilarious bravado and machisimo and commanded all of his scenes.
Another favorite was Wawszczak (Lysander), who, despite fracturing his collarbone in the Thursday performance, imbued his performance with a sense of touching sincerity.
As the First Fairy, Shakthi Nataraj was a spry nymph, frolicking and contorting with a sense of graceful abandon. Second-year Emily Ryon was hilarious in the role of obsessive, rejected Helena and acted the scene in which Helena realizes her unrequited love is no longer so with charming disbelief.
In our light skirts, T-shirts, and sandals, my friends and I were hardly dressed for the weather. Yet, when the sun set and the evening grew even less midsummery, we laughed even more than we shivered. As we left, one of my friends remarked, “I can’t believe that was free!” and I couldn’t, either. The Deans’ Men delivered a high-quality and thoroughly enjoyable performance that was more than worth paying for. Even if there had been a fee, I still would have recommended that everyone brave the chilly May air and lose themselves in an enchanting Midsummer’s Night.