Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Avatar depression

Tonight I had the pleasure of enjoying the Trevor School’s version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and now I know what “Avatar” depression is.

I had heard that folks were getting suicidally depressed after seeing “Avatar,” and I couldn’t understand why. When I saw the movie, it inspired me to do things, like fight in a grappling tournament (see my review from Feb 8, 2010). Then I saw this.

The play was set in a mostly bare, open, piece of floor in front of the seats with multi-leveled platforms. It opened with gentle mystical sounds being made by the fairies. A freaky figure, who we would later learn is Puck, entered, moving in a not-quite-human way and observing the audience. A character dressed in shirt and tie then entered, put on a sleeping cap, and lay down. The fairies pulled a strip of paper out of his hear revealing the title of the play.

From there, the play began. The fairies were portrayed by 5 lovely young ladies in motley leather vests, torn stockings, and face paint, contributing as a sort of punk-pagan presence to the proceedings. They served as a sort of Greek chorus, and furniture, and background, and framing device for the entire play.

The performances of the actors ranged from the enthusiastic to the excellent, utilizing the natural talents of the performers well. Notable were Helena’s ballet, Bottom’s gift for physical comedy, and Lysander’s flexibility.

The cast brought an excellent sense of unity to the world of the play. They had a remarkable synergy that enthralled the audience, making us eager to embrace the world in which they lived.

A particularly nice touch was to have Titania enter and relate to Bottom as he went through the suicide scene in the player’s play at the end of the show. It gave a sense of development, and a degree of depth to both characters, and made the play a bit more affecting than a mere comedy.

The last bit of action had the sleeper at the top of the play waking up and finding the banner with the title of the play. This represented the fact that the entire story was a dream, and gave the piece a symmetrical close.

Oddly, while much of the action was very funny, I didn’t find myself laughing out loud as I do at certain TV shows, or as much as the rest of the audience. But at the end, when the lovers had been united in wedlock and the players and done their play, when the lights went down and music came up before Puck’s epilogue, I found a great sadness coming over me. The music was a familiar melody that felt, in context, like a beautiful sunset at the end of a very good day. It was the perfect ending, but it was an ending, and we will never have that day back again.

The effectiveness of the play even came through a sub-optimal viewing set-up. The seats were on a set of particularly deep bleachers of gradual elevation. This meant that the back rows were very far from the action without being high up, and thus their view was were blocked by people’s heads. For a piece with such a strong environment, it would have been nice to be more physically embracing of the audience. Perhaps they could have figured out a way to do it in the round, or to have allowed the audience to sit on the floor within the performance area.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably Shakespeare play that is most adaptable to various media. Its location on the borders of a fairyland allows the production a lot of leeway to use its media. It got me to thinking of ways to do it with various movement vocabularies I have been familiarizing myself with lately.

But the fact that I will never be able to recapture the precise magic of this particular production if very sad.

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