HOLYOKE — While Shakespeare set his chaotic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream in ancient Greece, it’s not the same ancient Greece described in history texts. Much of the action takes place in a magical forest full of mischievous fairies manipulating the affections of mortals.
“It’s a kind of mythical ancient Greece,” says Holyoke Community College theater professor Tim Cochran. “When Shakespeare wrote plays, he wanted the audience to escape to a different time, a different place. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, instead of historical realism, he was trying to get people to think about magic and myth. Most of what we know about fairy myth comes from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’”
The HCC Theater Department’s spring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream maintains the play’s location — Athens — while shifting the action into a more modern age — the 1960s. Instead of white togas, these characters sport bright floral prints, short skirts, bell-bottom jeans, and tie-dye.
“We’ve set this play in 1969, right at the point where people were getting into their VW vans and traveling to Woodstock,” says Cochran, the director. “We’re doing a lot of ‘60s music. There’s some dance, a little singing. Constrained by their parents, the rebellious teenagers in the play escape to the woods, where there is more freedom and love is a little bit more fluid.”
HCC will present A Midsummer Night’s Dream April 21-23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Leslie Phillips Theater with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 23. The Friday, April 22, show will be ASL-interpreted.
In the play, Shakespeare presents a tangle of multiple plotlines. As Theseus, duke of Athens, prepares to marry Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, a ragtag group of laborers vie for stage time in a play to be performed at the wedding feast. Meanwhile, Egeus solicits the duke’s enforcement of his daughter Hermia’s pending nuptials to Demetrius. Hermia, as it turns out, loves Lysander, while her friend Helena is in love with Demetrius. The two young couples – and others – run off to the woods, where Oberon and Titania, the quarreling fairy king and queen, dispatch one of their minions, Puck, to sort things out.
The result? Mayhem.
“Somehow, Shakespeare crammed these storylines together and it works very nicely,” says Cochran. “It’s actually a very accessible play. There’s something for everybody.”
All tickets are $5 and are available at the door or in advance; (413) 552-2528)
Masks are required.