Courtesy of Eliza Bertrand
Medha Marsten’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays out on the stage as if it were a lucid dream. Characters walk in and out of sets leaving behind faint traces of their existence - a glass bottle or a wicker hat - and easily fall in and out of giant romantic quadrangles.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” tells the story of fickle gods and fairies who play matchmakers to four couples, but mislead their fortunes by causing others to court with the wrong paramours.
Boisterously performed by student Shakespeare troupe the AU Rude Mechanicals, the play is presented as a traveling troupe of vagabonds and humble gentlemen, led by the devilish huckster showman Peter Quince (played by School of Public Affairs major Elizabeth Leslie) and the loud and loquacious Nick Bottom played with a noteworthy verve by SPA major Steven Ballew. The cast jockey for the most esteemed roles in a play within the play to perform in front of the aristocratic elements of society.
Holding these elements together is Marsten, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, whose brilliantly wild direction weaves together Eastern and Western influences that coalesce amid the street performers and well-to-do citizens of Belle Epoque, Paris at the turn of the 19th century.
Marsten said that she wanted to explore the Belle Epoque time period in particular because of its naturally magical elements.
“You have Bohemian artists and the Impressionist artists, and they also had this appreciation for art,” Marsten said. “I wanted to look at the idea of love and how people pursue interest in others.”
The sparse set design lends itself to creating a nostalgic experience of Paris with simply a metal park bench and a street lamp populating the stage while the string lighting of amber hues sets the Parisian mood. This mood is offset by the colorful Eastern elements that Marsten seamlessly blend into the play, such as Puck (played by SIS major Sakari Merik Ishetiar), a fairy with Arabic written on his arms, and fairies dressed in traditional Indian saris who perform a classic bhangra dance.
“It’s like the World’s Fair,” Marsten said. “You need a strong introduction like the fairies have arrived with a bhangra dance…it’s a harvest dance originally done by men.”
During “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” strong strains of comedy in the tradition of the silent era of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin permeate throughout. Characters frequently perform ostentatious and grand gestures, which presented a lot of freedom for Marsten to toy with the blocking.
“Comedy is harder than tragedy or drama,” Marsten said. “Theres are a certain amount of things you can play to a crowd, but you really have to get into it, if you really believe it.”
Though humor was an integral part of the show, Marsten said there is a thin line between tragedy and comedy. By giving the actors a little leeway, it would let them find the comedy in their roles.
“With the lovers, the couples had to get to know each other really well,” Marsten said. “A lot of the comedy I left up to them. It’s easier to reel back then to push someone to do something.”
The show consists of a large ensemble cast, which allowed for a great deal of new freshman and sophomore actors to perform with the senior members of the Rude Mechanicals.
“What I love about freshmen is that they come in and they are so excited,” Marsten said.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a show about how love can be twisted and turned until characters lose control of it. This, of course, is used to the play’s advantage, creating rivalries between lovers,
But for Marsten, this is all par for the course.
“Laughing,” Marsten said, “makes people much closer.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays in the Katzen Theatre March 21-22 at 8 p.m. and March 23 at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets are $5 online through Eventbrite and $7 at the door.