Duke City Repertory Company produced the play this past March. The Vortex Theatre performed it in the plaza this summer, even after producing two other productions of it in the last four years. Even The Santa Fe Shakespeare Society performed a popular version of the play in 2012.
“Midsummer” exists as two main plots that intersect: a group of lovers and a troupe of actors each escape to the seclusion of a forest, only to be both futzed with by nefarious fairies. Hijinks ensue.
I’ve seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed more than a dozen times, yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen a production where the script wasn’t edited at least a little.
And now I see why.
To say that UNM Department of Theatre and Dance’s production is self-indulgent is a gross understatement.
Dear god. Why couldn’t it just end? It just kept going and going, with ending after ending, at a seemingly ever-slowing pace.
There comes a point at which theatre becomes a full-blown hostage situation.
Even after the running time squeezed lazily toward three full hours, the cast performed an extraneous dance number for the curtain call that was as embarrassing as it was ludicrous.
Not only was the entire script left mercilessly intact, but lines were actually and unthinkingly added in messy background improv which only served to distract and detract rather than improve.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to remember seeing direction in a play being so perplexingly sloppy.
Pacing is nonexistent. Scene changes are lengthy and irrelevant, forcing the audience to take in every second of the play’s vanity and shallow music choices. Consistency wavers wildly from scene to scene.
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Blocking, which is the precise movement and staging of actors, is sometimes so anal and specific that it crushes any possibility for actors to express some semblance of personality.
Other times it descends into complete onstage anarchy, with actors pointlessly babbling and repeating background chatter whilst bumbling over one another in a boring slapstick orgy.
Nearly all performances are unspirited or frankly painful to watch, though it’s difficult to blame any specific performer with the entire production lacking any and all cohesion. Actors convey little to no emotion, not seeming to understand the words they’re saying. Most of the expression is limited to sounding sarcastic, bored, or simply angry — all seemingly chosen at random.
Character intention is mostly replaced by running. Lots and lots of running.
Design is all over the place. The set is oddly bland, except for one metal tree for actors to rather aimlessly clamber on.
The program claimed that the setting of the play was intended to be post-apocalyptic. If I hadn’t read that, I think I’d mostly just be confused. I think I still am.
I can hear the gravelly-voiced intro now: “In the future ... there is only ... denim.”
“Midsummer” has three separate groups to play with: the royals, the extrinsic fairies, and the rude mechanicals, who are essentially just blue-collar schmucks doing community theatre in their spare time. The royals have the ugly, Mad Max grunge thing going on, even if it’s remarkably silly and nonsensical; but then the mechanicals just look like standard Shakespearean actors. Most disappointingly, the veritable armies of fairies all look completely identical, wholly lacking any kind of individual personality.
The city of “Athens” was changed in the script to “Athol,” which sounded so false and wrong I probably laughed every time it was said.
For a comedy, UNM’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes itself awfully seriously. Except for the parts that are ignored like a middle child desperate for attention, the play forces you to savor every moment of its self-important genius.
You lucky thing, you.
Graham Gentz is a theater and movie reviewer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.