Every year when the weather turns warm, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream seems to sprout up everywhere. Like bright yellow dandelion heads in a green spring lawn, it's one of the surest signs that we've finally put winter behind us.
Because the play is produced like clockwork around this time every year, usually by multiple groups, it's easy to forget how enjoyable it can be. This year, I'm especially glad winter is over, maybe because, for whatever reason, my allergies don't seem to be as nasty as usual. Bees are buzzing. Birds are singing. Blossoms are blooming. All this springtime ambiance has put me in the mood for Shakespeare's tried and true ode to the supernatural forces of nature.
A production directed by Denise Schultz at UNM's Rodey Theatre has much of what I would hope for in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The acting by a cast of UNM students is sometimes quite good and sometimes only just barely good enough, but it hardly matters. These are students after all, and some of these young performers, such as Babak Gharaei-Tafti as Lysander and Patrick McElwee as the lovable ass Nick Bottom, are already showing some serious expertise on stage.
In the end, though, Schultz, along with her talented set, costume, lighting and music designers, has opted to make atmosphere central to her vision of Shakespeare's idyllic comedy. It's a wise choice, because this is what most people want from A Midsummer Night's Dream—magic, beauty, amazement and escape.
The gorgeous, complex, yet elegant art nouveau set is really the most developed and fascinating character in the show, and why shouldn't it be? With words alone, Shakespeare created a merry supernatural world in which his characters can dance and dream. Schultz and company have constructed a dazzling visual counterpart, then invited us to step into this alluring fantasy world with them.
The story is good goofy fun. Demetrius is in love with Hermia, but Hermia is in love with Lysander. Just to make sure the situation is nice and messy, Helena is also in love with Demetrius. Somehow this quartet of lovesick young people gets stuck in the middle of an enchanted forest. A bunch of fairies led by Puck—the biggest, baddest fairy of them all—plays a series of funny magical tricks on the lovers.
Meanwhile, a traveling band of amateur thespians has wandered into the woods. At the command of the fairy king, Oberon, Puck plays a prank on Titania, the fairy queen. He spreads the juice of a magic flower over Titania's eyelids while she sleeps so that she will fall in love with the first person she glimpses.
When Titania wakes up, the first person she sees is Nick Bottom, the looniest of the traveling actors, whose head Puck has transformed into that of a giant donkey. Hijinks, as one of my colleagues is wont to say, inevitably ensue. Of course, it all works out in the end, and with some help from the fairies the two couples realign so that everyone ends up pleased as punch.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a ridiculous but immensely enjoyable play, and this production captures both the ridiculousness and the enjoyment of this otherworldly farce in equal measure. It's good, clean, pre-summer fun.