CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
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Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Voodoo tinges University Theatres production of Shakespeare's 'Midsummer
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Shakespeare's
comedy of magic, illusion and romantic mischief, is relocated to the moonlit
streets of contemporary New Orleans at Mardi Gras in the University Theatres
production that opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 2 in E.C. Mabie Theatre
of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances will
be at 8 p.m. April 3, 4 and 8-11, with 3 p.m. matinees on Sundays, April
5 and 12.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," with its fairy kingdom, was scheduled
in conjunction with the "Victorian Fairy Painting" exhibition,
which is making its only American appearance at the UI Museum of Art through
But director Mary Beth Easley, a faculty member in the UI department
of theatre arts, had in mind a different sort of spirits than those inhabiting
the mythical Greek woods of Shakespeare's script. She was intrigued by
the bayous of southern Louisiana as an American location rich with associations
to magic and mystery.
With the help of scenic designer Dan Nemteanu, costume designer Erin
Howell-Gritsch, lighting designer Bryon Winn and sound designer Lindsay
Kem, she has created a production saturated with voodoo. The transformed
fairies speak Shakespeare's lines with a Haitian accent, the characters
are dressed in opulent Mardi Gras fantasy costumes decorated with beads
and feathers, and the production is propelled by composer Mark Bruckner's
adaptations of African and Caribbean musics, and by the exotic movement
design of Marya Brough. UI folklorist Harry Oster, who is an expert is
Louisiana traditional music, has been a resource in the creation of the
In this version the human characters become pleasure-seeking revelers
for whom Mardi Gras is an escape from the inflexible social codes that
rule the city for most of the year. The King of Athens, Theseus, becomes
an "old boy" machine politician, and Hippolyta is a bored international
supermodel preparing to becoming his trophy wife. The fairies become the
city's voodoo practitioners, who trace their heritage to Haiti and West
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" includes the fantasy, farce and
poetry that characterize Shakespeare's most mature comedies. Many magical
hijinks occur in the woods during this "spirited" romp, including
a series of romantic matchings and mishaps as a result of love potions
administered by the mischievous sprite Puck at the behest of Oberon, the
king of the fairies.
The eventual wedding, where the lovers are united with their proper
mates, includes a comically bad play-within-a-play, in which the clumsy
weaver Bottom and a group of his coarse companions perform "The Most
Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe."
In the UI version, this plot is refracted through the culture and social
traditions of New Orleans. The Mardi Gras parades are traditionally organized
by "krewes," clubs that reflect race, social class and economic
status. The groups in Shakespeare's play -- the nobility, the laborers
and the fairies -- become easily identified with these traditional Carnival
For Easley, the relocation is based on the philosophy that "Shakespeare
was for the people, and a lot of times Shakespeare becomes an intellectual
exercise instead of something that is accessible to contemporary audiences."
"The play's about love and what is love; and dream and what is
dream and it's all on the eve of a huge ritual," she notes. "When
we think of New Orleans and Mardi Gras we think of ritual, of the rite
of spring and the end of winter. We think of love and wildness and all
She says that Mardi Gras has provided a useful point of connection for
the student actors. "I think it's worked beautifully, " she says.
"They know about Mardi Gras so it's easy for them to relate to these
people that they're playing. Some of my cast members have said that they
understand everything that's going on, and it's the first time that they've
ever seen a Shakespeare play in which they totally understand everything
that's going on."
Easley also welcomed the opportunity that Mardi Gras provided for music
and spectacle. "I'm a big music person, so we have Mardi Gras music,"
she explains. "We have a live band on stage playing, and Kammi Williams
is singing with the band. And then within the spirit world we made it very
musical -- there's a lot of Creole patois and Haitian music, and Ayeje
Feamster ,who was in 'Ain't Misbehavin'' last fall, sings as a part of
that world. So there's a lot of singing and traditional dance, along with
She says that the spectacle is authentic to the way that theater was
presented in Shakespeare's time: "In Shakespeare's time there were
card tricks and stunts and wandering musicians and all of that was a part
of what was going on. So in a lot of ways it's very true to how he originally
did it for the people of his time."
Tickets for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are $14 ($7 for UI
students, senior citizens and children 17 and younger). Tickets may be
purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining
tickets for each performance will be available at the Theatre Building
box office one hour before curtain time.
Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa,
dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is
toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged
to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases
to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option
of payroll deduction.
People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services
should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with
hearing impairment who use that technology.