Gamm Theatre presents ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in season’s final show
WARWICK – Shakespeare gave us the phrase, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and we’ve recently experienced a couple of those.
At The Gamm Theatre, however, our pandemic-curtailed winters will be “made glorious” with comedy: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” written, of course, by the same guy.
The play has not one plot but four -- about a royal couple, feuding fairies, four young lovers, six hapless actors – and in this production, 18 actors.
The plots bump into each other. Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, are about to be married. But first, Theseus is asked to rule on who should marry whom among four young lovers.
To escape the dictate, the young people escape to the forest where the fairy denizens, including King Oberon and Queen Tatinia, have had a falling out, and where a group of tradesmen-turned-actors are rehearsing a play to be performed at the royal wedding. Complicating those events as much as he can is the mischievous, magical sprite Puck.
There is a lot going on, but director Fred Sullivan Jr., who has appeared in the play five times, said he is guided by “the things that Shakespeare has written.”
Shakespeare’s setting, and Sullivan’s, is Greece, where Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, are about to be married.
“It’s Athens in the time of gods,” Sullivan added, and he sees the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Tatinia, as “the English version of gods and goddesses.”
Often directors have the same two actors play the human and fairy kings and queens, suggesting they are alter egos in different worlds. Sullivan chose not only to cast different actors for each of the four roles but also to do a “gender swap”; a female plays Oberon and a male plays Tatinia.
“They’re gods. What does gender matter? Zeus used to change into a swan,” he pointed out. He thinks it creates an interesting perspective on their feud.
Mix magic spells into all these relationships and events, and you get, among other strange happenings, a dreaming queen who falls in love with the first thing she sees, which happens to be a man whose head has been turned into that of a donkey; confusion among the young lovers; and a nuptial play that is a disaster, which only makes it well received.
“It’s a ball!” Sullivan said.
“I love watching rehearsals,” he added, saying he has assembled a “dream team” of actors, a mix of people with whom he has worked in the past as well as several he never has directed.
“They are so pitch perfect” in their portrayals, “and they are so good with the singing, the athletics, the humor – and the language.”
Sullivan has added original music, composed by Milly Massey, to accompany the fairies’ magic spells, and all the action plays out on a big set created by Patrick Lynch.
“There is a revolve built into it,” for changing scenes, Sullivan said. Paper lanterns change color to represent different locations, and a large medallion suspended in the royal court rotates to become a moon in the forest.
Whenever he works on one of Shakespeare’s plays, he repeatedly asks himself. “How can we honor him with something that brings his work to all its glory?
“I’ve always said, if a Brown professor of English sees the play or a kid who has never heard of Shakespeare, I want them to be equally excited.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs from May 5-29 at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd. Tickets are $49-$69 and available by calling (401) 723-4266 or online at gammtheatre.org/midsummer. Preview performances (May 5-8) are $35; paywhat-you-can rush tickets available for Friday evening shows. Discounts for seniors, students, groups and more at gammtheatre.org/discounts.
For the safety and comfort of Gamm audiences, patrons must present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the theater. All patrons, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask. Details at gammtheatre.org.