Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Many are familiar with the three interwoven tales involved in William Shakespeare’s still-popular work, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This summer at Indiana State University’s Crossroads Repertory Theatre, however, the familiar takes a new twist: director Chris Berchild has moved the characters to 1890s Paris in the setting of the Moulin Rouge. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the New Theater on the ISU campus.
Shakespeare’s comedy interlocks three separate plots through the celebration of a royal wedding of Theseus (Jason Bowen) and Hippolyta (Julie Dixon). The first plot involves a love mix-up between Hermia (Jacqueline M. Wentz), Demetrius (Joe Wagner), Lysander (Brandon Wentz) and Helena (Carolyn Conover). Hermia’s father, Egeus (Ryan Niemiller), insists Hermia marry Demetrius, but she and Lysander are in love and plan to elope. Egeus asks Theseus to force his daughter to do his will, and Theseus gives her a few days to think about marrying Demetrius or face the ultimate punishment.
Meanwhile, in the woods, a band of fairies and an acting troupe share stories of their own. Fairy king Oberon (Bowen) and his queen, Titania (Dixon), are at odds with each other over possession of a young child now among Titania’s devotees. Oberon sends his servant, Puck (played by various members of the cast), to get revenge by spreading a magical juice from a flower over her sleeping eyes, causing her to fall in love with the first being he or she sees. She wakes up to fall in love with a most unexpected love object! Puck also applies the potion to correct the love tangle but things go awry when the potion just causes an even greater mix-up among the lovers. Concurrently, a group of unsophisticated town workmen are preparing a delightfully amateurish play to present to Theseus and Hippolyta at their wedding celebration, where all the worlds eventually come together for a hilarious celebratory ending filled with dance and merriment. Seven actors portray the 22 characters who make up the three very different worlds.
“The three worlds of Shakespeare fit perfectly with the worlds of the Moulin Rouge,” Berchild said. The wild times of 1890s Paris included the bohemian artists, the wealthy financier and the people who frequented the popular nightclub. There is also a defining drug in Shakespeare’s work, the juice of the magical flower. Absinthe, the liqueur of choice at the Moulin Rouge, is a perfect fit for this adaptation.
In addition to changing the setting of Shakespeare’s original work, Berchild also adds pre-recorded video to this adaptation. “Today’s audiences are very media-savvy,” he explained. “Adding the video is another way to bring centuries-old text to life in modern times.” Some of the videos are used to create the Parisian environments, while others help to move the plot along. This play marks the fourth time Berchild has brought Shakespeare to life with this technological approach. He also used the device in a recent adaptation of “Frankenstein” on the Crossroads Repertory Theatre stage. Peter Williams and Sala Wong serve as media designers, bringing Berchild’s technological vision to fruition on multiple screens in the theater.
“The text itself hasn’t changed,” Berchild explained. “We have really only changed the setting and added familiar songs where Shakespeare indicated there should be songs.” During a fight scene between Hermia and Helena, for example, the audience is treated to Maurice Chevalier’s rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”
Berchild noted that Shakespeare wrote for his time, making cultural references to the queen and other people and events that had meaning to his audience. “I believe we are staying true to what Shakespeare intended by making his work more relevant to today’s audiences,” Berchild said.
Performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are Friday through Sunday and July 18, 24 and 27. All begin at 7:30 p.m. except the Sunday matinee at 4 p.m. After that matinee, the community is invited to a free Sunday Talk featuring director/adaptor Berchild. He will discuss his unique, modernized approach to directing Shakespeare, revealing some of the challenging details behind the technological productions that have become his trademark.
Tickets for this professional production are $15 each for general admission. Indiana State University students can obtain one free ticket per show with student ID, while ISU faculty and staff receive a reduced ticket price. Tickets may be purchased online at www.crossroadsrep.com or at the ticket office inside the theater, 540 N. Seventh St. For additional ticket information, call (812) 237-3333.