Shakespeare and the outdoors have had a long history together. From the plays set in the forest or health, to the performances of "Shakespeare in the Park" in New York City, thoughts of nature and the Bard are often intertwined.
Now Harvard is getting a taste of this tradition with A Midsummer Night's Dream, being performed in the Adams House courtyard.
A motley cross between Shakespearean comedy and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is nothing if not dramatic. Motocycles, condoms and pink bow-ties figure prominently, along with music performed by a group that calls itself "Love Juice."
The productions straddles several different eras. Its dialogue is rooted in firm Shakespearean ground, but its innovations are strictly 20th century. In some scenes, for example, characters sport Athens College T-shirts and jeans.
This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream's greatest flaw, however, is that it sometimes overdoes its interpretative staging. The comic-book touches, such as the "zap" that fairies cry after magic mutterings, are almost too cute. The result is funny but cheap.
Yet however outrageous this production may seem at times (at almost all times), it is generally faithful to the intentions of the original. Even the band's name, "Love Juice," comes from a line in Shakespeare's script. The Athens T-shirts add another dimension to the confused identity of the players mistaken for Athenians.
But thankfully, as the main plot strains grow entangled like roots in the forest, the Adams House embellishments manage to avoid getting in the way.
As with most of Shakespeare's comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play about romance gone awry. The young woman, Hermia, is in love with Lysander. But her father Egeus has another husband in mind for her, Demetrius. Meanwhile, another woman, Helena, is passionately in love with Demetrius, who once returned her love but now repudiates it.
In the forest primeval--and with a little help from magic dispersed by the minions of Oberon, king of the fairies--these relationships grow more complicated, and true love turns false through mistaken spells. Add in a band of workers rehearsing a play about Pyramus and Thisbe; Titania, the queen of the fairies and the butt of Oberon's a cruel trick; and some cacophony from "Love Juice," and the play is on its merry way.
What the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream does best is to play up the humor of the innuendoes in the play. The innuendoes, of course, are mainly sexual in character. Indeed, sex is almost an obsession with this production.
Touches and kisses abound. Fairies glide through the audience strewing prophylactics. And Oberon sports black stockings and a jacket woven with the latex of condoms and a slit rubber glove.
David R. Gammons plays Oberon as a playful pan-sexual creature who puffs on colored cigarettes as he entertains himself with other people's lives. While sometimes, difficult to hear, Gammons is a strong fairy king. But he is less inspired in the lesser role of Theseus, the duke whose impending marriage leads everyone to the forest.
Oberon's female counterpart Titania is played by Jenny Davidson, whose shock of green hair adds an ethereal touch to her competent portrayal of the fairy queen.
The most disappointing performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream comes from Tom Chick, who plays Oberon's jester Puck, who unfortunately gets a little confused about who should be loving whom. Chick is flat rather than impish, insipid instead of intelligent. Puck is normally the most memorable character of this comedy--but not in this production.
There is nothing diminutive about Heather Dyan Hughes' acting, despite the poignant jokes about her stature that the characters make. As Hermia, she is fluid throughout the play, and gives an especially effective performance as she prepares to elope but is then rejected by her lover Lysander.
Less charming is Steven Petersen's protrayal of Lysander. While his movements and manners are well-studied, his delivery is wooden and unconvincing.
Among those playing the workers who are for the first time practicing Pyramus and Thisbe, Lee Thomson is a charming and domineering Nick Bottom. He effectively overacts when he assumes the role of Pyramus.
The Adams House courtyard is not exactly Central Park, but directors Tom Hopkins and Orion Ross use the space creatively. A fire escape is the tool for a dramatic entrance in one scene, and Hopkins and Ross manufacture chase scenes that give new meaning to the phrase "running around in circles."
Be prepared for the weather, however. It's so windy in the courtyard that it might seem a more appropriate setting for The Tempest. But it is worth your while to brave the elements for this creative production of an old Shakespeare favorite.