Andrei Belgrader’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream created a strange atmosphere for the world of the show. A Theseus who was perpetually exhausted and an ending mired in pure absurdity, the play was filled with strange moments that left the audience questioning the intended message. Perhaps this came as a result of the small cast that forced liberal cuts in the text, but it did not necessarily deliver a cohesive message. The play certainly had some good points, but these were largely overcome by its many flaws. Overall, it is not the worst rendition of Midsummer ever produced at USC, but given the controversy surrounding the 2016 production, this is no great compliment.
Comparing this production to the past one would be pointless as they were as disparate in terms of director competency and scale as possible. Belgrader’s show took place in a black box theatre and relied heavily on emblematic design to suggest a setting, and this worked fairly well. The space lent itself well to the feeling of suffocation and anxiety of being lost in a dark forest. As a result, the tonality became much darker and more mysterious. Another success of the show was the side storyline of Titania, Oberon, Bottom, and Puck. All of the actors played their roles fairly well, and their scenes were often the best parts of the show. Bottom especially stood out in all this. However, these highlghts were as far as the show went.
While still entertaining, the largest problems in the show centered around the four lovers. The most obvious was the size of the cast. Midsummer is a show with about 19 characters, and the cast Belgrader was working with had only 9. As a result, only one fairy was ever present on stage, and the four lovers were also cast as the mechanicals. The final scene was obviously warped as the four lovers are supposed to watch the play. The result was a strange and stunted flow of scenes where dialogue cuts detracted from storytelling. The final scene lost an impressive amount of comedy without the back and forth between Theseus, Lysander, and Demetrius.
The final and most important detraction was the lack of differentiation between Lysander and Demetrius. One of the defining factors of any performance of this show is how the cast and director make the two gentleman lovers interesting and unique. There is ample evidence in the text to suggest choices actors might make, but this production intentionally went to the contrary. Costuming and blocking worked to make the two as similar as possible, which made little sense and prevented some of the more interesting drama from occurring. Long lover scenes that can be joyous explorations in mating rituals of mankind instead became strange and overly-lewd monotony.
The play was entertaining in many senses; there is something alluring about watching grown adults hurl themselves across the stage. It is unfortunate, though, that it would be inaccurate to call the show a success. Belgrader is a director with an immense resume and copious amounts of experience, but it is unclear if he truly had a handle on the show. Given he has directed Midsummer before, it is hard to say if a different vision was implemented or if he failed to work well with the cast. Either way Midsummer Night’s Dream was a slightly disappointing opening to the SDA season.