Fools these mortals be
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I admit A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and I got off on the wrong foot. Because I have a day job, I arrived at Sand Harbor around 6:45 p.m. Since the show started at 7:30, I assumed my arrival time and $43 “lower gallery” ticket would be ample to snag a decent spot to be whisked to fairyland. Such was my Midsummer Night’s Mistake. Since people apparently quit their jobs to camp out in line, I was relegated to the second-to-last row, far enough house-left that my primary view was of the lake, not the stage. But I suppose the festival folks want audiences’ eyes to wander. Why else would they include five-minute flute solos in the middle of an already-long play? Yes, the red flags in this production started popping up immediately—namely, when the opening PA announcement flubbed the title: “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”
While I freely admit responsibility for my seating, the blame for what ensued is squarely on whomever turned the play on its ear. Let’s start from the top. A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins in the human world, showing us how arranged marriages can dampen the spirits of even the fabulously wealthy. When two sets of young lovers flee the constraints of the court to follow their hearts, they land in a forest haunted by mischievous fairies. Or at least that’s what I always thought. Apparently, the woods around Athens have of late been infested by solemn Native Americans. This makes sense because … oh, wait—it doesn’t make sense at all. Perhaps inspired by Tahoe’s geography, director Michael Walling has added a twist to something that didn’t need twisting. The concept is so jarring that my brain wouldn’t initially admit there were Indians onstage, in spite of it looking like a Pocahontas parade float.
Though the “reimagining” is more annoying than my word limit will accommodate, I’ll try to sum up: When the most interesting part of your production of AMND is the lovers’ subplot, you have a problem. Never in my significant exposure to this play have I been checking my watch during the fairy parts, praying for the action to get back to Lysander. This is partially because the four actors playing the lovers are quite good, and I commend them. I also commend Walling for his deft staging of their sitcom-like entanglements. Mainly, though, watching a Tonto-inspired Puck is about as exciting as paying your power bill. When Puck should be cavorting about the stage, basking in mischief, this joyless fellow (Ariel Estrada) is too bogged down in noble savagery to realize he’s in a comedy. If this doesn’t wreck the ambience enough, nothing says Shakespeare like an Indian flute piping up amidst the dialogue.
To be fair, some people will love the Indian theme. They are the same people who buy dreamcatchers from mall kiosks and smugly tell you the Inuit have a hundred words for snow (not true, by the way). For the rest of us—or for me, anyway—it reeks of self-satisfied white guilt. More importantly, it’s simply ill-conceived. As my friend quipped, it’s as if they mistook mysticism for magic.
I don’t mean to bash the production unequivocally. Though often distasteful, its lakeside setting is still magical, even if its fairies aren’t. The actors range from decent to very good, and the Mechanicals, especially Nick Bottom (Patrick DeSantis), are enjoyable. Their play-within-a-play should have the crowd rolling in the sand every night. Unfortunately, other parts may have the Bard rolling over in his grave.