Shakespeare & Currier Conjure “Midsummer” in Africa
by Robert M. Gardner
Marin Shakespeare Company has found the perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy. A romp in the magical forest brings thoughts of young loves, old loves, and new loves. But be prepared—in today’s Trumpean climate—Bottom is right: “And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.”
When you have seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” countless times, you wonder what director Lesley Shisgall Currier can do to make it fresh. With stylish all Black cast, modern set with brilliantly colored trees, and jazz dance by the nymphs, Currier has constructed a “Midsummer” for our time. The language is all Shakespeare, delivered by talented actors in African dress and corn rows to add thoughts on colonialism and universal rights.
The costumes by brilliant costume designer/playwright Regina Evans of “52 Letters” fame suggest Wakanda or perhaps Lion King. Set Designer Jackson Currier uplifts with bright colors and unique palm trees. We are transported, not to Theseus’ Athens, but to an African palace.
Hermia (winsome Jamella Cross) has chosen her lover, Lysander (excellent Terrance Smith). But her father has chosen Demetrius (dynamic Marquis D. Gibson) for her. Their love triangle provides tension and laughs for the first act.
To complicate matters, Hermia’s outspoken friend Helena (fascinating Santoya Fields) obsesses over Demetrius. When Helena laments that she is not blessed with Hermia’s looks, so men do not look into her eyes as they do into Hermia’s, we relate easily to our own insecurities.
Ironically, when the forest trickster Puck (irrepressible Jeremy Marquis) smears love juice on Lysander’s eyes, both Lysander and Demetrius fall for Helena. As Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) famously exclaims, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Shakespeare chronicles the vagaries of love in all its guises, including the master-slave duo of imposing Oberon (majestic Dameion Brown), King of the Faeries, and his flighty servant, Puck. Oberon and Puck make a classically funny pair: the demanding master and his tricky servant.
Despite his magical powers, Oberon has to struggle to win back his Titania (enchanting Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), Queen of the Faeries. When they are together, Nature is in tune, and the forest resounds with love.
But when Puck’s magic transforms Bottom the Weaver (Jourdan Olivier-Verde) into a Donkey, the bewitched Titania fall for the Ass. Hilarity and madness break out. As Lysander says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Director Lesley Currier evokes a seamless play with African themes and fashions. The African music and costumes ring true, moving us to respect the power of African magic, passion, and culture. This “Midsummer Night’s Dream” moves my spirit by offering a new perspective on love, poetry, and music.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, directed by Lesley Shisgall Currier, at Marin Shakespeare Company, San Rafael, California, through Sunday, September 29, 2019 Info: marinshakespeare.org
Cast: Todd Risby, Eliza Bolvin, Kevin Johnson, Jamelia Cross, Terrance Smith, Marquis D. Gibson, Santoya Fields, Jourdan Olivier-Verde, Lijesh Krishnan, Khari Haynes, Kaylamay Paz Suarez, William Oliver III, Phillip Percy Williams, Jeremy Marquis, Dameion Brown, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, Oluchi Nwokocha, Jacori Bowers, Jermain “Wyze” Nelson, and Michaela Barton.
Banner photo: LeMar Harrison as Puck.