The University of New Mexico presents Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Rodey Theatre, Center for the Arts, UNM main campus. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 and Saturday, Nov. 8, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9. Repeats at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-15 and 2 p.m. Nov. 16. Tickets are $15 general public, $12 seniors and UNM faculty, $10 students and UNM staff and are available at ticket offices in the UNM Bookstore and The Pit, by calling 925-5858, at www.unmtickets.com or at the door.
By David Steinberg
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays.
Supporting evidence: There have been two stagings of the romantic comedy in Albuquerque this year.
Here comes a third, this one by the University of New Mexico’s Theatre and Dance Department. Joe Alberti, assistant professor of theater, directs.
But popularity has its downside. Which is why Alberti is trying to avoid audience members moaning, “Yet another production of ‘Midsummer.'”
He’s insisted the UNM production be set apart from any other staging of the play.
“I am trying to explore it and trying to situate it in a way that audiences’ historical understanding of it doesn’t get in the way of their direct experience, being confronted anew. …I wanted to try to get people off balance,” Alberti said.
On that point, he’s addressed the play’s setting.
“So I talked about the time, where and when to set the play,” Alberti said. “A 1960s version? That’s been done to death. So what about the 1920s? I tried to move away from that.
“So what about setting it in an ethereal time and it’s not really on earth, slightly in the future and in a post-apocalyptic world,” Alberti asked rhetorically.
The production’s designers, he said, got excited about the idea. “My guiding mantra is how is the audience going to know it’s another world? I am putting that to myself and to the designers,. Those are elements they are dealing with,” Alberti said.
The production will have a touch of gender bending. The original script has a character named Egeus, the father of Hermia. The UNM production will replace him with the character Egea, the mother of Hermia.
The production has a singing coach – Kathleen Clawson.
Alberti said he’s structured the script into nine complete scenes that are actor-friendly.
“My goal has been and always will be, more than anything else, focused on student learning. That’s what I care most about,” he said. “So it’s not about Joe Alberti trying a quintessential ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.'”
With that in mind, he cast as many students as possible; 25 at last count. Alberti has created a couple of roles of attendants and brought in understudies. These are students who might not have a role in any UNM play this semester.
“I want them to learn and have the opportunity to learn,” he said. “My feeling is that there is no better playwright thank Shakespeare to help students learn to deal with challenges in performing on the stage. Because of the richness of the language, and, in my opinion, the near perfection of his plays… Some attain perfection, and ‘Midsummer’ is one of them.”
“Midsummer Night’s Dream” offers what Alberti called great challenges for students “…in terms of physical challenges, great vocal challenges, great mental challenges, great spiritual challenges, great challenges of the imagination and great challenges at synthesizing these elements of a human being into a coordination of the self in order to embody whatever role they’re playing.”
One cast member, Jose Castro, who portrays Theseus, Duke of Athens, said this is the first time he’s taking Alberti’s technique from classroom to the stage. Alberti, Castro said, is good informing and teaching the student-actors how to handle Shakespeare’s language.
The language isn’t complicated, but there is so much in the text. “He’s teaching us how to use language to our benefit and get the most of our characters out of that language,” said Castro, a senior. “We make discoveries of our characters and (Alberti) is letting us have creative liberties with the character.”
(Alberti brought in a voice/speech professor from Syracuse University who gave a workshop for the cast in dealing with Shakespeare’s language.)
Events in the play pivot around the upcoming marriage of Theseus to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Theseus conquered the Amazons and is forcing Hippolyta to marry him, Castro said.
Meanwhile, Egea, a political supporter of Theseus, wants him to force Hermia to marry Demetrius, though she’s in love with Lysander. Near the play’s end, Theseus yields, allowing Hermia to marry Lysander and Demetrius to marry Helena.
“So you really see a struggle that Theseus goes through,” Castro said.
Another student-actor, Katie Farmin, portrays Titania, queen of the fairies. She’s married to Oberon, king of the fairies. They’re squabbling.
“I definitely have magical powers but not in the traditional fairy sense with wings. She’s definitely otherworldly,” said Farmin, also a senior. “In her words, there are references about how her relationship with Oberon affects weather, the seasons, nature in general. I like to think of them as references to Greek gods, to Zeus and Hera. Titania and Oberon have that kind of power.”
As with Castro, Farmin has studied with Alberti but not in his capacity as director until now.
“He’s a (Designated) Linklater Voice Teacher and he passes his knowledge on,” she said. “He teaches his students vocal work, to project safely, to be heard clearly on stage whether shouting or whispering…”
The play has a number of famous lines and phrases, such as “The course of true love never did run smooth” (Lysander), “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (Robin), and “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/Are of imagination all compact.” (Theseus)
Among other cast members are Helena Berry as Hippolyta, Gerome Olona as Lysander, Josh Jones as Demetrius, Andee Schray as Hermia, Kim Jennings as Egea, Austin Embree as Oberon, Beatrice Lawrence as Helena, and Cris Iannucci as Robin, or Puck.
“The ultimate aim,” Alberti states, “is for students to come out empowered, to come out with challenging plays, (giving them) the resources, knowledge and skills so they are capable of being better actors.”