A Midwinter Night’s Dream @Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium, Savannah State University Campus
Nov. 30-Dec. 1, Dec. 7-8 and Dec. 14-15, 8 P.M and Sunday matinees on Dec. 2, 9 and 16, 3 P.M.
$25 general admission, $20 for seniors, students, and active military, $5 for Savannah State University students and faculty
UNDER THE direction of Collective Face Theater Ensemble’s artistic director David I.L. Poole, the celebrated local theater group is set to tackle Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a slight twist.
The show is an adaptation of the Shakespeare standard originally done by the Shakespeare Theatre in New Jersey, and puts a winter or holiday spin on everything summer-related.
Poole stumbled upon the adaptation while searching for a show to do during the holiday season, and thought of it as an interesting alternative to the typical shows that many that most theaters take on.
Midwinter revolves around the wedding of Thesus, the Duke of Athens, and Hyppolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. There are a number of plots that connect throughout, and the play opens with the saga of Hermia, who’s torn between the man she’s expected to marry and the man she actually loves. She ultimately escapes into a forest with Lysander after being told by Thesus that she can either marry Demetrius, the man she’s been arranged with, or face death.
From there, the play goes on to involve a strange love triangle and a group wedding, and culminates in a terribly-performed play done by a group known as The Mechanicals. At the end of Midwinter, the audience is left with the suggestion that everything they just witnessed might have been one long dream.
“It seems like it’s really long and complicated, but when you see it you’ll understand what’s going on,” Poole says with a laugh. The layers of plotlines come together to create a winter spin on one of the most engaging and layered works in Shakespeare’s incredible repertoire.
Ahead of opening night at the Kennedy Fine Arts Auditorium on the Savannah State University campus on Nov. 30, we chatted with Poole about the show, why he chose Shakespeare, and why the legendary playwright’s work continues to resonate.
Tell me a bit about how this play begins, for anyone who might not be familiar.
DP: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the most produced comedy of Shakespeare's, and it's a fun, family-filled play. It's about crossed lovers – it starts off very dramatic. You think it's going to go real dark, and then all of the sudden it lightens up. It's about Hermia and her father, Egus. She's in love with Lysander, but is betrothed to Demetrius.
In this play Shakespeare, like he does in other plays, takes reference from Greek literature and then goes forward. But basically, what happens is – Egus is upset that his daughter doesn’t want to marry Demetrius and wants to marry Lysander.
At the beginning, he comes to the Duke and says, “I want to bestow upon my daughter the punishment of the land.” I say this to my actors – how high are the stakes in this play? Unfortunately, at this time, if she doesn’t marry and obey her father she can be killed. Or, she could go and live as a nun [laughs].
So the beginning of the play is filled with drama – she must marry Demetrius, but she does not want to marry Demetrius. She wants to marry Lysander, and she has to make this choice about what she’s going to do. Is she going to stand up for love and figure out a way to marry Lysander, or obey her father and marry Demetrius?
I’m fascinated by the idea that Shakespeare’s work continues to resonate with people over hundreds of years. It’s amazing. Why do you think that is, and what made you want to interpret the show in this way?
DP: One thing we all know is that Shakespeare never wrote original stories. His stories were stolen, they were taken from folklore and myths and he interwove them with these romances, etc.
I think why we still do them is because they resonate with us. Even though this one is this fantastical, fairyland kind of play, it does have a heart in it.
We all relate to being the outsider, to being marginalized and not fitting in. The language, even though it’s heightened Shakespearean verse – when performed correctly, Shakespeare is actually more simplistic in his language than anything.
The great Julie Taymor, who’s directed a lot of Shakespeare, did this special a long time ago when I was a child. I remember watching this special on television – it was a Penn and Teller special called Behind the Scenes. She was talking about her production of The Tempest, and I’ll never forget the thing that stuck with me most.
She said, “Shakespeare is actually really simple.” The language is actually very simple. He tells you things like, “Teach me of the bigger light that burn by day and less by night.” What is he talking about? He’s talking about the sun. The big light in the sky.
When you have an actor that gestures towards the sun while he’s speaking about it, it makes sense. The audience will understand.
DP: One of the things that I've been pounding into these actors' heads about Shakespeare is this – you have to understand that Shakespeare came along before our, sort of, sense memory, Stanislavski actor training. Shakespeare's not subtle [laughs]. It's straightforward.
There’s no subtext in Shakespeare, and so I think that also makes it relatable to an audience. In the style of Shakespeare that I like there’s a lot of direct address to the audience. His plays were built that way.
Our adaptation of Midsummer actually comes from the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. They had this idea about doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a winter wonderland. I always have a hard time finding a holiday show for us.
I don’t want to do Christmas Carol or Nutcracker – it’s not to say that we won’t ever do them, it’s just that right now I feel like everyone is inundated with those holiday favorites. So I always look for something that’s winter themed or has a Christmas theme.
I did a search and found this adaptation from Joe Discher and Ronnie J. Monte. I emailed [Discher] and said, “I would love to see if I could do your adaptation of this. What do you think?” So we made a deal and I got the script.
A lot of people say Shakespeare is so long – this cutting of it is about an hour and 40 minutes. It’s a nice, digestible show. It’s fun, it’s got lots of fairies in it, we’re doing circus things in it. It’s going to be magical and fun for the whole family.