This stage review was written by Ashley Na, an associate member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. She is a student majoring in journalism at San Diego State University.
What is a Valentine’s month without quirky love perfumes, mysterious herbs and a mix of Shakespearean magic?
The Old Globe and the University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program is staging a relatively modern twist on the comedic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Unlike Shakespeare’s story which is set in Athens, Greece during the late 1500s, this adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” starts in 1942 at Athens Motor Factory, during World War II and the height of industrialization and economic boom.
Directed by Sam White, this virtual, pre-recorded production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” explores the complicated topic of love, jealousy and conflict through several subplots such as the complex relationships between four Athens factory lovers: Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius. Alongside the messy relationships, there is also a group of six actors rehearsing the play “Pyramus and Thisbe” for the wedding of the duke Theseus and Hippolyta. All these people find their emotions muddled and manipulated by a love perfume, administered by the cupid-like Oberon and the mischievous Puck.
The cast includes Jonathan Aaron Wilson (Demetrius), Jacqui Dupré (Hermia), Klarissa Marie Robles (Helena), Henian Boon (Lysander), Clarie Simba (Puck, Philostrate) and Christopher Cruz (Oberon, Thesus). Simba’s mercurial portrayal of Puck, for one, is memorable as she uses different musical elements to highlight Puck’s reckless and fun-loving personality. Although the musical pieces performed by Simba come into the play without any warning, that in itself depicts the sudden and continuous shifts of the character’s personality.
Cruz’s portrayal of Oberon is rather weak in comparison to Simba’s Puck. Despite the fact that Puck is Oberon’s right hand man, Cruz’s depiction is less bold.
Wilson, Dupré, Robles and Boon all complement each of the characters perfectly. For example, Wilson and Boon depict Demetrius and Lysander as similar characters in personality, but diametrically opposed rivals, while Dupré and Robles characterize Hermia and Helena as two women helplessly in love, both triggered by jealousy for each other from the perfume.
Although the plot line generally follows Shakespeare’s original play with only the changes of settings and time period, this telling is at once both modernized and dated. Unlike the small details of Rosie the Riveter posters which signified women’s empowerment during the early to mid 1940s, this society still follows the sexist and misogynistic reality of Shakespeare’s original time frame of Athens, Greece in 1595.
For instance, Hermia is shamed when she does not fulfill her father, Egeus’ wishes for her to marry Demetrius. Additionally, Demetrius forces himself upon Hermia despite continuous rejections and only loves her for her physical appearance and prosperity.
On the upside, director White employs a racially diverse ensemble of actors.
This production is socially distanced and seems to have been recorded in a specific room during the majority of the play. Later, all of the actors reappear on the stage. Considering this, the background was very consistent and in sync during each shot of the actors and actresses. However, there were moments when Robles’ camera started to shake, revealing that she was holding onto something resembling a selfie stick. There were other small audio issues including muffled, inaudible voices when the performers were all on the stage.
Despite some flaws, the small black and white video clips of machinery and factory workers, the creative use of special effects when Simba was spraying the love perfume and transforming Bottom to a donkey and small musical-style numbers, made us feel as if we were watching a movie rather than watching a traditional, classic Shakespearean play. This interpretation is interesting to watch as we await the ultimate fates of each character.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” presented by The Old Globe and the University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program is watchable, free of charge, until Feb. 28
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat