First of all, this review will hardly convey the grit of the real thing: Elizabethan comedy, an ancient, incredible play, Midsummer Night’s Dream. If love should ever be mixed up, you can find it on stage here, in Farmington, Maine. Only, on stage, it’s not winter any longer when you enter the theater. Depicting midsummer and a green forest of wandering lovers, fairies, creatures, a duke and duchess, and even – a live dog, Midsummer Night’s Dream can take your breath away.
Shakespeare wrote about what he knew – old England with its beech woods, foxgloves, primroses and aconites growing densely in wooded copses. Then he transplanted the story into Athens (against the back drop of Grecian columns). Writing this play in 1594 – roughly- he included people who roamed the English woods. Not only aristocrats, but also, tinkers, craftsmen, weavers, tailors. Shakespeare put everybody together, including the fairies and sprites.
Sitting in cold Maine, watching the three hour wonderful rehearsal of the Sandy River Players doing this play, you could hear wind outside and know Maine forests are filled with deepening snow, and not the romantic atmosphere of summer. It’s a feast to see this play: wander with the actors as they tread the staged woodland. I sat back and reflected a lot on love and its sad mix ups.
Puck the hobgoblin sprite, servant of Oberon, King of the Fairies, tries to play cupid and help the young lovers solve their problems, yet he creates havoc instead. The entire play is about how havoc is overcome. The ending is joyous, humorous, and Oberon finally gets Puck to shake the potent purple wildflower drops into all the lovers eyes, and bring them out of their night forest wanderings and dreams.
“I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes…” says Puck, assuring Oberon he’ll find the magic flower to make everything right again. Such a tale, o my, a comedy of mistakes, but goodness ruling.
You almost laugh when Lysander, Hermia’s lover, says, “get you gone you dwarf, you acorn,” to Hermia in the deep forest when he thinks he is in love with another woman, Helena – Hermia’s best friend since childhood. Puck put the purple flower drops into the wrong eyes.
The forest sprites and fairies are free to make fun of humankind, and then fix the human mess. (I found myself wishing Shakespeare was alive to write a play about the mess our world is in. Question: would he bring in the elemental fairy kingdom to help us woebegone mortals?)
The characters Snout, Starveling, Snug, Bottom, Polly Quince, carry out Shakespeare’s skill at creating “a play within a play.”
They are best at humor, making you laugh at the seriousness of the ‘upper class’ Athenians. The fairies are the loveliest of dancers, whimsy and lightness personified. They also have surprisingly gifted voice talents.
The Duke, Duchess of Athens, Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, Helena are royal, yet real people, hating each other at times, filled with vengeance, jealousy, but meaning nothing other than that they love each other and wish for attention from the right lovers, and what else?
Yes, the groundlings. They weren’t at this rehearsal, but I was assured they won’t let the audience down. They will be funny, sassy, rude, and they will sit right at the foot of the stage, where in Shakespeare’s time, they could throw rotten eggs at the actors. Don’t think that’s the case in 21st century Maine.
At this Thursday night’s rehearsal, benches were strewn with papers, tape, paint brushes, chocolate from the holidays, pencils and cast lists. Actors not on stage were intensely listening to their peers on the set, and hoping by now, all lines were memorized ( they were). I caught sight of only one groundling out in the entrance hall trying to get into his costume, but most have given up because he didn’t come any further than that hallway.
Sandy Rivers Players, has been creating plays for years. To review this, I’d have to say – the old cliche – you have to go to see why it comes together so perfectly. The way things come work: Phil Carlsen’s fabulous music and the appealing choreography by Bobbie Hanstein. Carlsen’s music blended into the acting, the choreography and the scenery. At times, like in movies (oh, horrors the comparison) the music seemed not there, but the atmosphere was. Music created the mood and to such a degree that we heard the mood, not the instruments. Amazing when that happens.
Carlsen had a toy piano and made the fairies dance. He waved pipes and created a ghost like forest creepy sound, which made you glad to be inside the theater not out in the woods. His cello inventions made the pomp of the Duke and Duchess justified and the dancers even more ethereal. Hanstein created harmonious, interweaving movements, refreshing ballet, which was essential with the music and actions.
Jayne Decker seemed to effortlessly direct this play. You imagine Shakespeare sits down to watch her.
Last but not least, the costume maker, Beth Dorr and the technicians are going to stun you with their artistry in design and lighting. Nothing is left out. Basically, this is a smashing play whose ranks happen to include some skilled UMF and local actors of wide ranges of age, and the current show is a continuation of their talents you’ve viewed before in bygone years.
So come, get lost in a forest, watch the anquish of love lost and re-found, Maine in winter transformed.
As Oberon, ruler of the forest says, “All things shall be in peace…. we are spirits of another sort, a world apart…” To mortals he advises, ” Be as thou would want to be, and as thou would want to see…” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 15, 16, 17; Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 22, 23, 24; and at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25, in UMF’s Alumni Theater. The ticket prices range from $8-$13 with reduced prices on the two Thursday night performances. Advance tickets are on sale at Mickey’s Hallmark and Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington. For more information can be found at www.sandyriverplayers.org.
These dynamic, community actors, under Jayne’s direction, have an excellent sense of drama, music, dance, timing, than many seasoned actors.