A Twist on a Shakespearean Classic

“Give me your hands, if we be friends. And Robin shall restore amends.” This famous line uttered by the fairy prankster, Puck, is from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream being preformed at Saint Louis University Theatre in Xavier Hall on Feb. 23 and 24 at 8 p.m., March 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. and March 4 at 2 p.m. This performance is a twist on the classic, in that instead of being set in Athens like the original production, this performance takes place in India. The town, which is still called Athens, is shown at the dawn of the 20th century, when Indian colonies were still under British occupation.

For those who are not familiar with this classic play, here’s a brief synopsis: Theseus is the duke of Athens, who is to wed Hippolyta of the Amazon after a war won by Theseus. Through the preparations for the wedding, we met Hermia, who is loved by two men: Lysander and Demetrius. Her mother, Egeus, wants her to marry Demetrius, but she loves Lysander.

These three lovers are brought before Theseus for guidance on what should be done. Theseus gives Hermia three options: 1. Marry Demetrius to honor her mother’s wishes, 2. Be put to death or 3. Join convent to bear herself away from the society of men.

We then learn of Helena, who was loved by Demetrius but was spurned by him for Hermia. Hermia and Helena are friends, but Helena thinks Hermia is more beautiful than she is. When Hermia and Lysander decide to escape Athens so they can be together, Helena decides that she will tell Demetrius and that this will make him love her.

Then there are the masters who want to put on a play of Pyramus and Thisby for the Duke’s wedding. They are led by Bottom, who wants to play all of the parts.

Then there’s the fairy world that is ruled by Oberon and Titania. Oberon’s trusted fairy trickster is Puck, who will be the cause of all the mischief. Through a time of magic and love, this is one night that all those involved will ask, “Was that a dream?”

Sitting in the audience at this timeless classic, it was interesting to see if it stayed true to Shakespeare’s words, despite a completely difference of setting. When I first came into the theater and saw the set, I have to say, I was a little skeptical. But as the performance began, I was soon transported to a very different time and place, where everyone speaks in rhyme. The cast really was phenomenal in helping to center this often discombobulated story. The character that stood out the most to me was Helena.

Helena was performed by junior Paris McCarthy. She exquisitely encompassed who Helena is and ran with it. Her timing was impeccable, and she provided many moments of comic relief. Then there was Bottom, played by junior Dylan Duke, who brought the character to life. Duke played the character as his own. I loved how he used his body to express the character so well. The stage set-up was interesting, and the use of the lights was effective. The lights changed with each scene, helping us understand what time of night each scene took place.

University Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is certainly worthwhile. The setting may have changed, but the story remains the same. I’d highly recommend that you go see this geographical twist on a classic.

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