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Depression Era Dream

Shakespeare favorite set in the ‘30s at Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck opens this Friday; pay “what you will” on opening night

by Frances Marion Platt
April 01, 2011 11:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
L-R: Lysander (Will Jobs), Hermia (Rachael White), Demetrius (Michael Prezioso) and Helena (Gina Leonaggeo). Photo by Joanne Contreni.
L-R: Lysander (Will Jobs), Hermia (Rachael White), Demetrius (Michael Prezioso) and Helena (Gina Leonaggeo). Photo by Joanne Contreni.
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Even people who never go near a Shakespeare play of their own volition have likely seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or at least portions of it. Long before high school freshmen tackle Romeo and Juliet as part of the prescribed state Language Arts curriculum for ninth grade, they have probably watched some of their middle school classmates act out the antics of donkey-headed Bottom and the other “rude mechanicals,” if they haven’t played a part themselves. Because of its lighthearted spirit and comparative accessibility of language, it’s a favorite offering for school plays, outdoor summer Shakespeare festivals and Renaissance Faires. You don’t need to be a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran or other seasoned thespian raised on the classics to pull it off; heck, even Mickey Rooney managed a creditable Puck with only a string of juvenile roles yet under his belt.

But that’s exactly the problem with Dream: It’s too well-known. What does a stage company do with it to make it fresh and new, short of taking an approach so avant-garde that the audience walks away when the curtain falls talking about nothing but the weird gimmicks that were introduced? It’s a fine line to walk, but the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck (CPAR) is taking on the challenge with its upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opens this Friday, April 1 under the direction of Lou Trapani.

One popular way of messing with Shakespeare without overly offending the purists is to move the story into an anachronistic setting while retaining the Bard’s original language. CPAR seems to be going a little further out on the experimental limb with its current production. As Trapani describes it, “This is Shakespeare’s play as three 1930s film studios might have done it. The rich kids’ comic love story, which is woven in with Theseus and Hippolyta’s story, is an RKO extravaganza, sort of like Flying Down to Rio. Oberon and Titania’s feud is a Warner Brothers noir thriller à la Petrified Forest. And the mechanicals are straight out of a Hal Roach Studios two-reeler.”

Now, if you’re among the many who were thoroughly bemused by the Mabou Mines production of The Tempest at the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park in New York City in 1981 – you know, the notorious version with the helicopter and the sumo wrestlers, in which Stephano and Trinculo were portrayed as W. C. Fields and Mae West – you might find this last reference a bit alarming. If you’re the kind of Shakespeare fan who cringes when directors take liberties with the sacred canon, this may not be the production for you.

But before you say “Uh-oh,” consider the appropriateness of setting an essentially fluffy play like this during the Depression – a time when the availability of light entertainment was essential to keeping people sane – and especially in doing so now, when times are as hard as they’ve ever been in post-Depression America.

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the centerpiece of CPAR’s fifth annual Sam Scripps Shakespeare Festival. The Festival was founded in honor of the late Sam Scripps, a CPAR benefactor who was also a major contributor to the construction of the new Globe Theatre stage in London. Fittingly, this production will be performed on a detailed replica of Shakespeare’s Globe stage, created in 2008 by renowned Broadway scenic artist Richard Prouse and funded with support from the Dutchess County Arts Council.

Another facet of the Festival is an educational component for local youth and adults. A “Shakespeare for Teens” workshop will be held on April 4 and April 11 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and a “Shakespeare for Adults” workshop from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on the same dates. Both workshops will concentrate on overviews of selected plays, readings from others and “on-your-feet” exercises utilizing monologues and small scenes. Admission is free, but registration is required; call (845) 876-3088, extension 13, by April 1 to reserve a space.

CPAR’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stars Michael Brooks as Theseus, Deborah Coconis as Hippolyta, John Adair as Oberon, Lisa Lynds as Titania and David Foster as Bottom. Also starring are Barbara Melzer, Will Jobs, Rachael White, Michael Prezioso, Gina Leonaggeo, Peter Pius, Jim O’Neill, Nick Anthony, Jennifer Barry, David Weinberg, Emily DePew, Deidre and Kiki Sepp, Angelica and Maya Schubert and Jane and Abby Carney. Performances run from April 1 to 17, every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and every Sunday except April 3 at 3 p.m.

Ticket prices for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are typically $24 for adults and $22 for seniors and children. But in that good old Depression Era breadline spirit, on opening night, this Friday only, the policy is “Pay as you like it, or, what you will.” That’s right: Just show up at the door and pay $3, $10, $30 or whatever amount you choose. No ducats or pounds, please; just good Yankee cash or a check (no credit cards).

For all other performances, tickets can be ordered by visiting www.centerforperformingarts.org or by calling the box office at (845) 876-3080. Box office hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Center for Performing Arts is located at 661 Route 308, three miles east of the village center in Rhinebeck.

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