Tragical Mirth Tour | 2007

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
  • Theseus, Duke of Athens, plans his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Egeus interrupts to complain that his daughter Hermia has fallen in love with Lysander. Theseus orders Hermia to obey her father and marry Demetrius; otherwise, she will be killed or sent to a nunnery.
  • Hermia and Lysander plan to escape to the woods, get married, and live off money from Lysander’s rich aunt.
  • Hermia’s friend Helena, who loves Demetrius, reveals the plan to him, and he follows Hermia and Lysander into the woods.
  • In the woods, Oberon, the fairy king, and Titania, his queen, quarrel over the possession of an infant boy.
  • Oberon sends Puck to bewitch Titania, so that she will fall in love with the first creature she sees when she wakes.
  • Bottom, an Athenian laborer, has come to the woods with his fellow workers to rehearse a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding celebration.
  • Puck places an ass’s head upon Bottom, with whom Titania promptly falls in love.
  • Oberon commands Puck to bewitch Demetrius so that he falls in love with Helena; Puck, however, mistakes Lysander for Demetrius.
  • Corrections, coupling, and play-going ensue.
Notes from the Director
Midsummer director’s diary

Today is Friday, June 23rd, 2006, and rehearsals for this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream won’t actually begin for another few weeks. I’m excited about the prospect of directing this production, but also a little daunted. I find this play challenging, on a number of fronts. It’s a play that needs to invoke a kind of theatrical magic, without really using any, and (to paraphrase Bottom) there are parts of this so-called comedy that are just not funny. I should explain…

The play begins with a young woman (Hermia) being ordered to give up the man she loves and wed another, or face the penalty of death, or lifelong abstinence as a nun. Hermia’s best friend Helena is pining away for a man who claims to despise her. From that cheery beginning, we are then transported into a world of hobgoblins, fairies, and sundry monsters, where a ferocious battle is in progress between the armies of Titania the Fairy Queen, and Oberon, the King of the Fairies. As a result of their quarrels, the Earth has suffered (we are told) strange, unseasonal weather, floods, failed harvests, and other depressing phenomena.

So, why is this a “funny” play? Perhaps it is because, despite all the domestic tragedies and disasters going on in the court and in Fairy Land, a bunch of enthusiastic actor-types are preparing to put on a show at Duke Theseus’s wedding day (at night)…and they’re not very good. We laugh at actors who aren’t very good. Were the play to feature a crew of incompetent sailers, or a group of amateurish accountants, I doubt it would have survived to this day. Films like Waiting for Guffman show us that, in fact, we love laughing at actors who aren’t very good. In this play, Bottom and his fellow amateur actors are heroes because they try their best and it doesn’t matter that they aren’t good. It’s their good-natured, doggedly determined way in which they prepare and perform their play that has continued to charm audiences for the past 400 years.

I’m a keen advocate of bare-bones, original stage practice productions of Shakespeare, and yet on this occasion I confess I’d feel happier if I had a battery of technicians on hand to help transport us to Fairy Land and back at the touch of a button. A smidgen of dry ice and some nice mood lighting would surely help matters, wouldn’t it? No, we must create our illusory delights using only the voices and bodies of the actors as the first troupe who performed this play did. It’s going to be tough, I think, but I know the best course of action is to put my faith in the actors in this company to take you on a fabulous journey of the imagination, into the land of dreams and nightmares, the land of loves thwarted and restored. However our production turns out, I sincerely hope that you will be rooting for Bottom and friends when the time comes for the “tedious brief scene of young Pyramus / And his love Thisbe.”

Very tragical mirth, indeed.

Jaq bessell

Guest Director