Among William Shakespeare’s beloved canon of works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” rises to the top as one of the most famous and performed plays in the English language. With interpretations ranging from a Disney Channel spoof to a ballet composed by Elvis Costello, it may seem like there’s little originality left to be had with this classic.
Not so, said Jan Powell, director of Richmond Shakespeare and Henley Street Theatre’s coming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Agecroft Hall in Windsor Farms.
“Yes, it’s a story that pretty much everybody knows in one form or another,” said Powell, who is directing this comedy for the third time in her career, “but this production to me feels so wonderfully fresh and new.” She attributed this to studying what Shakespeare’s characters are “really and truly” saying and doing, and then letting brilliant actors interpret the roles.
Veteran actors John Moon and Melissa Johnston Price play both Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hipolyta, Queen of the Amazons, as well as Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the Fairies. Though the latter roles are usually played by younger people, Powell said she liked the maturity that Moon and Price bring to the Fairy regents’ volatile relationship. “That experience they have with each other adds a whole lot more fun,” Powell said.
This family-friendly staging is set in 1905, and influenced by the Art Nouveau aesthetic that pervaded the country before World War I “broke America’s heart,” Powell said. Within the story, Theseus is portrayed as a Teddy Roosevelt-style leader, characteristic of the hubris of turn-of-the-century America, who met his Spanish wife Hipolyta after defeating her people in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Also, Powell said, the bucolic fairy imagery created in late-19th century Great Britain provided much inspiration.
Powell said the play’s theme boils down to “the overwhelming power of love” – the feelings of terror, vulnerability and helplessness that come with falling in love. “Love is a force of nature that can completely destroy you if you try to fight it,” Powell said. “Each characters’ affection for someone else leads them into terrible trouble.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs June 12 – July 6 at Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, Va. 23221. Performances are Thurs.-Sun. at 8 p.m. Tickets can be bought at agecrofthall.tix.com.