Chances are you’ve either seen it or have been in it. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is sort of like the Shakespearean “Godspell” in that sense.
And not unsurprisingly, the summer is a particularly vibrant time for productions of the comedy, which works well in an outdoor setting — what with those enchanted fairy-filled woods outside Athens, where lovers’ woes are mystically resolved.
“There is no question there is something deeply magical about sitting in a theater as the sun is setting, and the play is changing with that sunset,” said Charles Fee, whose production of the play will open this summer at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in Nevada.
“Midsummer” lends itself to nontraditional treatments, and the art of directorial tinkering is probably almost as old as the script. The Royal Shakespeare Company and Google Creative Lab are teaming up on a part-live, part-Internet production — the epitome of updates — that is but only one of many intriguing interpretations this summer.
Here a few of those overseeing these productions talk about their renditions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” describing how they have conceptualized their productions; what take they’ve chosen for the fairy Puck, that “merry wanderer of the night”; and just what about “Dream” continues to draw our attention.
COLORADO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL — Boulder, Colo.
CONCEPT: Set in the Jazz Age, this outdoor production will have a “Downton Abbey” feel. Director Geoffrey Kent said this choice makes thematic sense since the 1920s were the era of women’s suffrage, and the play partly deals with a young woman wanting to marry the man of her own choosing, not of her father’s.
PUCK: The veteran character actor Lawrence Hecht is an unusual choice for the impish sprite. “He’s a laborious, slow-moving Puck, who’s got a bad back and bad knees and a bad neck,” Kent said. “He’s a like an aging Teamster fairy who cannot be fired but works at his own pace.” Kent has cast Hermia against type too: Jenna Bainbridge is partly paralyzed from the waist down and walks with a decided limp.
POPULARITY: “The other comedies are laced with history jokes and jokes on the reign of the current queen,” Kent said. “‘Midsummer’ doesn’t have any of that. You don’t need footnotes to understand why it’s so funny.”
— Through Aug. 11 at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theater, University of Colorado, Boulder; coloradoshakes.org; directed by Geoffrey Kent.
LAKE TAHOE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL, Lake Tahoe, Nev.
CONCEPT: The 1960s setting includes paisley and leather in the costumes and a Volkswagen Beetle, on the outdoor set. Fee, who is artistic director at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Lake Tahoe, has employed the concept before, but he said he finds it rewarding to return to familiar ground.
“We begin in 1960s Athens, in a very rigid world,” he said. “It’s a little bit like a magical mystery tour. We go out into the woods, and we have drugs put in our eyes, and we see things completely differently. It’s a bit psychedelic.”
PUCK: Expect a bit of Jimi Hendrix. “When I was 10 it was 1968, and I lived in San Francisco, and the fact is, he looks like one of the Merry Pranksters,” Fee said. “He’s beginning to follow a kind of guru, a sort of maharishi figure in Oberon, but he’s like the guys I saw in the city in the late ‘60s.”
POPULARITY: The battles for love connect with audiences, Fee said, and the play features such a wide spectrum of characters that every attendee is in some way represented on stage. “The poetry is exquisite, and the comedy is low and very, very bawdy,” he said.
— July 12 through 25 at the Sand Harbor State Park, Incline Village, Nev.; laketahoeshakespeare.com; directed by Charles Fee.
ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY AND THE GOOGLE CREATIVE LAB — online
CONCEPT: This online version of “Midsummer” will unfold in real time across the weekend. Participants can interact with characters on Google+; create ancillary characters; share thoughts on the play; and engage with the production in other ways. But fear not, traditionalists; “the heart of the play is still the play, and it was important to us to preserve that,” said Geraldine Collinge, director of events and exhibitions for the RSC.
PUCK: “He’s the only character that we’re allowing to play across the Internet,” as well as be shown in the more traditional live portion of the production, said Tom Uglow, director of Google Creative Lab. Participants will be able to interact with Puck’s online presence.
POPULARITY: The play’s still the thing, though given that this is a Royal Shakespeare Company production at heart, the text is still important. “It’s got a mixture of comedy and seriousness, and it does address our times,” Collinge said. Besides, “In how many plays do people get turned into donkeys?”
— June 21 through June 23, Online at Google+; directed by Gregory Doran.