Allentown, Pa. (March 12, 2012) — In staging Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” opening March 28 at Muhlenberg College, director Beth Schachter says she is looking for the play’s “critique of power” and its commentary on marriage — but she’s also looking to create a good time.
“This is a play which has a tremendous amount of fun in it,” says Schachter of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, which was first produced in the 1590s. “The lovers’ plot, and the fairies’ manipulation of the lovers and their affairs, all add up to highly comical miscommunications and misunderstandings. And chase scenes. It’s fun stuff!”
The Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department will present the play, the fifth of its 2011-12 main stage season, March 28 through April 1, in its 100-seat Studio Theatre. Schachter is an associate professor of theater in the department.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” begins with four hopelessly entangled young lovers, adds a royal wedding and some traveling thespians, and then sends everyone off to an enchanted forest, where they get caught in the crossfire between the King and Queen of the Faeries. It’s a story of love, magic, mistaken identity, and Nature gone mad — as well as some of the most enduring poetry the English language has to offer.
Schachter says that much of the spirit of the production comes from the fairies — both their magical qualities and their ethereal dance-like movement.
“The fairies are something that we, in the contemporary world, can be drawn to,” she says. “There’s something still pleasurable, I think, about their ‘hand-made magic,’ and we’re trying to tap back into that pre-modern sense of magic.”
Choreographer Robert J. Wagner, a Muhlenberg alumnus and professional teacher and performer, has worked with the cast to create a vocabulary of movement based on contact improvisation — an approach designed to give the choreography a sense of spontaneity and flight. Schachter has also incorporated contemporary music, to give the audience a more direct association with the characters’ emotions — for example, their discovery of love, and their sense of confusion.
“The songs tap into a sensory experience of the play, which I think that Shakespeare would be after,” Schachter says. “There are hilarious rhymes and even bad rhymes in the fairies’ spells, and Shakespeare obviously enjoyed the clunkiness of off-rhymes. He took pleasure in sound and music.”
On the more serious side, Schachter says she is interested in the play’s critique of power and exploration of freedom. She suggests that power and freedom don’t always correlate as closely as might be expected.
“We go from the highest reaches of power to the lowest reaches, both in romantic relationships and marriage, and in creative pursuits,” she says. “The play explores who has the most freedom, and it turns out that the Mechanicals — the wandering, largely unemployed troupe of part-time performers — have perhaps the most freedom to genuinely create. There is a sense that their imagination does vault them over certain physical limits and power limitations.”
Helping to create the production’s sense of magic will be scenery by set designer Kina Park. Her ambition, she says, is to transport the audience from the present time and place into a timeless realm.
“The set features vibrant colors, oversized flowers and trees, and a hill covered with funky textures to help emphasize the fun and whimsical mood,” Park says. “As in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the scale of the object is a key to the magical world. Giant flowers will make the audience feel all of a sudden small, and will help them to be a part of the world of the play.”
Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department is the top-rated college performance program in the country, according to the Princeton Review’s 2012 survey report. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs March 28 to April 1. Performances are Wednesday through Friday, March 28-30, at 8 p.m; Saturday, March 31, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 1, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under, $7 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.
Tickets and information: 484-664-3333 or Muhlenberg.edu/theatre