The School of Dramatic Arts has quite an undertaking this semester in the form of three very different Shakespeare plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and A Winter’s Tale. The first a comedy, the second a tragedy, and the third somewhere in between, these plays offer quite a range of the Poet’s work and life. Each play comes with its individual challenges and benefits, but it remains to be seen how the students will fare onstage. Andrei Belgrader, Kate Burton, and Kenneth Mitchell have immense amounts of work ahead as directors, and the casts will have to similarly rise to the occasion to put on compelling performances in the wake of an overall disappointing previous semester.
Midsummer is the first play of the three to go up this semester, and this does not leave much time as the actors will be performing this next weekend. After the school previously put up the show in 2016, a bitter taste likely lasts in the mouths of students and faculty present, as this may well have been the most disastrous show in recent times. Through directorial strife and cast disagreements, the highlight of that 2016 show was the set. Belgrader comes in as an experienced voice who has done the show before, and hopefully this will prove to translate into this adaptation. He has a decent track record at the school (although short), I am inclined to trust his directorial process. However, he will have to focus in on navigating complicated objectives turning at the drop of a hat with his actors in order to make sense of the comedy. Although not a personal favorite, Midsummer is a play filled with fantastic moments and plots, and Andre will certainly be advantaged in having such a great script.
Othello is likely the most well known of the three plays, and it is a script that has been horribly adapted a number of times. The school has put its trust in Kate Burton, who is a far more experienced actress than director. It will be interesting to see if Burton wants to take huge risks in terms of directorial decisions or attempt to distill a traditional and faithful rendition of the play. It should be noted that both are equally valid, but USC has a tradition of doing weird adaptations instead of original works. Othello, as a tragedy, has a number of important and delicate themes that it engages it, and these can often slow the process for actors involved. The plays success will likely rest on the shoulders of the main three characters, more than other Shakespeare plays, Othello, Desdemona, and Iago will be critical for the show’s success.
The Winter’s Tale is the final Shakespeare play of the season, and it comes from the final few plays of Shakespeare’s life. To be frank, this play is, in a way, the most difficult of the three. The narrative of this play borders on ludicrous, and it is absurdly long. Tonally, it has drastic shifts and ridiculous plot twists that undermine the idea of consequences. In order to reach his happy ending, Will’s worst play is on display, and Kenneth Mitchell will likely have to make liberal cuts to shape it into something decent. My confidence runs low, based simply on having read the script and knowing how weak the narrative is. In order to succeed in creating something good, Mitchell may have to lean more towards the abstract adaptation route, but it is not impossible that he fashions something good without.
Regardless of the play selections, students and faculty alike are likely excited about the prospect of so much Shakespeare. Hopefully, this is an indication of the direction the School of Dramatic Arts will take when selecting plays in the future. With competent directors at the helm, I am intrigued and captiously optimistic about this set of plays in the SDA season. Hopefully, we will be treated to three excellent works of art.