3 actors in 3 shows bring out the many sides of Puck
Robin Goodfellow. Goblin. Sprite. The Merry Wanderer of the Night. Shakespeare has many nicknames for Puck, the mischievous imp who star-crosses lovers and then must set all things right in the classic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This summer season, three area theaters are presenting “Midsummer.” But just as Puck has many monikers, there are many ways to portray him (or her) onstage. Here’s what three actors playing Puck had to say about their roles in this ever-popular, seasonally appropriate play.
The Puck: Alex Mills, a 26-year-old native of Fredericksburg, Va.
The production: Crystal City’s Synetic Theater remounts its 2009 “silent Shakespeare” version of “Midsummer,” which received eight Helen Hayes Award nominations, including one for Mills. There’s no dialogue; the story is conveyed through movement and music. Paata Tsikurishvili, artistic director at Synetic, directs. Choreography is by Irina Tsikurishvili, who also plays Titania. Performances begin Wednesday and run through Aug. 9.
Past experience with the play: Mills landed the role of Lysander, a young man of Athens, as a teenager and points out that he did learn and say all his lines. “We didn’t do silent Shakespeare in high school,” Mills said. He has since played Puck during every remount of Synetic’s 2009 production, including a 2014 tour to Mexico.
Theater training: None, other than high school theater and childhood gymnastics. “I didn’t go to college, so I try to treat each show like a kind of master class,” Mills said.
Favorite line: “Interesting question, since I say none,” Mills said. But when pressed, he picked, “Up and down, up and down; I will lead them up and down; I am fear’d in field and town; Goblin, lead them up and down.”
Describe your director’s vision for “Midsummer”: “Whimsical and fun and light and never too serious,” Mills said. “[ Tsikurisvili] wants to keep the sense of magic throughout, even during the mechanical scenes, and with the lovers. . . . He wanted it to be seamless, and what he wanted with Puck’s character was for him to be the through-line.”
Describe Puck’s personality as you portray him: “He is just Dennis the Menace, really,” Mills said. “He is just a little boy having fun. I always compare him to Ariel [ in ‘ The Tempest’], who is a dutiful servant, whereas Puck gets his orders and says ‘okay’ with a wink. He has
fun whenever he can.”
What are your Puck’s distinctive features? “I am painted entirely blue, so first of all, physical appearance, and second, movement. I have my certain skill sets of contortion. Puck is a shape-shifter, and I have an ability to morph,” Mills said. It takes him about 30 minutes to apply the paint, which is a mixture of blue powder and white clown paint. “A plastic spoon, a Styrofoam bowl and my hands are my tools, and the paint never really comes off. I won’t totally be unblue until the run is over.”
Why should audiences come see your production? “It’s a landmark production, one of the tightest and most concise silent Shakespeares that we’ve done,” Mills said. “The storytelling is so clear. People who sometimes get bogged down in the text and wonder what’s happening — our ‘Midsummer’ is translatable for all audiences, for adults, for kids and for people who don’t speak English.”
The Puck: Marion Grey, 22, a native of Roanoke, Va., working her first professional job after college graduation.
The production: The first play of the National Players’ annual free outdoor Shakespeare series at Olney Theatre Center, this “Midsummer” will tour to area schools in the coming year and is helmed by Olney’s artistic director, Jason Loewith. Performances begin Wednesday and run through July 26. Bring your own picnic blanket.
Theater training: BA in theater and dance from James Madison University.
Favorite line: “I am that merry wanderer of the night,” Grey said.
Past experience with “Midsummer”: None. “I did do ‘ Romeo and Juliet’ in college. I was a servant. I think I had two lines,” Grey said.
Describe your director’s vision for the production: “We are focusing a lot on women and faithfulness,” Grey said. “For Puck, we are asking, what does that mean for her to be a girl? Traditionally, it’s not a great play for women speaking out, because the men have such a dominant voice. We are finding strength and qualities in all the women, both the fairies and the humans.”
Describe Puck’s personality as you portray her: “When you see my Puck, I hope that you find her enchanting,” Grey said. “A lot of people see Puck as being a trickster and being mischievous, and she is all of that, but she is very true to herself. She serves Oberon and is faithful to him as a leader and a friend. She likes to have fun, and there may be expenses to be paid for that fun, but it
always works out in the end.”
What are your Puck’s distinctive features? “Our costumes have a bit of an Edwardian influence,” Grey said. “My clothes are very loose and playful, and ready for whatever I need to do, and I think that is very much Puck: She is always up for anything.”
Why should audiences come see your production? “See all three of them,” Grey said. “Synetic is such a physical theater; they will have a beautiful and original take, I’m sure. Shakespeare Theatre’s work will be beautifully deep and complex. And then you have National Players, and we hold our own. We are 10 young actors who are all at the beginning of our careers. We have a fresh energy and a wonderful eagerness that we are bringing. ”
The Puck: Adam Green, a New York-based Shakespeare Theatre Company affiliated artist who is “comfortably in [his] 30s.”
The production: Shakespeare is remounting its 2012 staging of “Midsummer,” as its annual Free for All performance. The original production received five Helen Hayes Award nominations, including one for Green. Performances run Sept. 1-13 at Sidney Harman Hall. Ethan McSweeny returns to direct.
Past experience with the play: Green landed the part Peter Quince as an undergraduate at Harvard University but says, “Puck is the part I’ve always wanted to play. That’s why I dropped everything to come back and do this again.” In other Shakespearean productions, “I’ve played a lot of rogues and clowns,” he said.
Theater training: MFA in acting from New York University.
Favorite line: “There is so much wonderful poetry in this play,” Green said. “In Act 5, when they are watching the play within a play, Theseus says, ‘ The best in this kind are but shadows.’ I think about that line a lot, because he’s talking about plays, and the fleeting memory you have when you go to the theater. It’s an ephemeral experience.”
Describe your director’s vision for “Midsummer”: “The play itself is an ode to the wonder and theatricality of the stage, and a celebration of art, using the metaphor of the fairy world,” Green said. “Ethan has taken to that to very cool level. The woods themselves are an abandoned and dilapidated theater. What the fairies wear are pieces of costumes that they find in old trunks. It’s like the curtain has been drawn back on a grand stage.”
Describe Puck’s personality as you portray him: “I have seen so many anodyne, cherubic Pucks in the past, and I don’t think that’s what he is,” Green said. “I did a lot of research into the mythology of the time, and there’s a lot of darker stuff. I was interested in the two sides of Robin Goodfellow: There’s a lighthearted and mischievous side that likes the pranks, but there’s also a dangerous and sexual side.”
What are your Puck’s distinctive features? “It’s a very physical incarnation of Puck, influenced by animal movements and the image of a satyr,” Green said. “When I hang from the chandeliers, I’m thinking, ‘What if Puck had a little monkey in him?’ When I’m climbing the walls, I’m thinking, ‘Puck as a leopard.’ It’s a very physical part. I did a lot of getting in shape for this play, and I do a ton of stretching before the show.”
Why should audiences come see your production? Nothing has gotten short shrift in this production. Ethan has created a world in which the direction, the design elements and the language all coming together in a happy marriage, but where everyone is really clear about the text. You don’t have Shakespeare when you don’t have the text. The sets and costumes are some of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever been a part of. And selfishly speaking, I really love my entrance.”
AlexMills plays Puck in Synetic Theater’s production of “AMidsummer Night’s Dream,” which has no dialogue. The “silent Shakespeare” version of the comedy, which Synetic first put on in 2009, relies on movement and music to convey the story.
Marion Grey is Puck in the National Players’ take on “Midsummer.” “We are focusing a lot on women and faithfulness,” she says.
Adam Green’s Puck, for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, is “very physical.”