A New Vision for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Anne Coleman ’09, the director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “loathes the play when it is done poorly.” Expanding on this, she explains that many productions of the play are “fluffy, insubstantial, and a waste of a beautiful text.”

From all appearances, her production of what many consider Shakespeare’s greatest comedy, will not be one such production. She has an incredible cast, many of whom have been noted for their brilliant performances in prior Swarthmore productions. She has the kind of experienced and highly competent crew that is necessary to put on a show of such a scale on the LPAC Main Stage. She has the backing of Drama Board, the clearinghouse for theatre directed, performed, and crewed entirely by students.

And she has a directorial vision. This has become nearly a requirement for productions Shakespeare, which is constantly being transferred to new settings that can often seem unrelated to the text, but Coleman has a reason for her setting of the play in Morocco.

“Midsummer is a very risky play, but modern audiences don’t get to see” it that way when it is played merely as light comedy, Coleman argues. “In the first scene, a father threatens to kill his daughter if she doesn’t marry who he wants her to.” There is an “extant patriarchy” and a “fear of the supernatural” in the text of the play that existed for Shakespeare’s audience but which are foreign to a modern Swarthmore crowd.

Cultural mysticism is still a force today; Berber carpenters still believe in Djinns (similar to what we might call genies), and will flee a construction site on their account, just as in Elizabethan England, the witches of the Scottish Play were a feared entity. In one moment in the text that Coleman has retained, Oberon, the king of the fairies, explains that they are not evil but rather that “they are spirits of another sort.” Coleman wants to respect what she considers an important part of the play and make it relevant to the audience.

Even with these concerns about patriarchy and the supernatural, the play is still a comedy. As Coleman explains, there are “a lot of dick jokes in this play. A lot.” There are “moments of pure farce” along with tragedy, and it “needs range” in order to “find a way to approach the play with fresh eyes” that acknowledge that it is both “scary and joyful.”

Coleman referred to an old saying about how “comedies end in a marriage, but tragedies begin with them.” For her directorial vision, the reason Pyramus and Thisbe, which bears a more than passing resemblance to Shakespeare’s own Romeo and Juliet, is the play that the Mechanicals perform is that it reminds the audience of what could have happened and what still may happen after the happy ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The audience, Coleman hopes, “can enjoy much more of the final moment” and its happiness if it is reminded that the happiness is “ephemeral” and full of “potential for catastrophe.” It’s a “human comedy.”

Drama Board’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be seen on the LPAC Main Stage at 7:00 PM on Friday or Saturday or at 2:00 PM on Sunday.

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