A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare in the Arb
by Helen Hill
The U-M Residential College production of A Midsummer Night's Dream last June in the Arb was an enormous pleasure, and Ann Arborites will be delighted to know that the college will produce the play again June 13-16 and 20-23.
Entering the Arb Peony Garden from Observatory last year, we were met by bed after bed of peonies in full bloom and by recorder players and a lutenist, dressed in Elizabethan costume, who played an overture of sixteenth-century tunes while students, parents with children, and townspeople of all ages wandered in and found places to sit, listen, chat, and admire the peonies. Some brought cushions or low lawn chairs. Most of us sat on the grass.
The play began as the duke of Athens and his Amazon bride-to-be strolled in on the grass between us and the gardens, both peacefully anticipating their wedding four days afterward. They were followed by the two other sets of lovers whose lives would be much stormier before the play was over and by the clowns planning a rehearsal of their play in honor of the duke's wedding. Here the scene changed, and the musicians led the way as the audience followed the characters into the woods. I met friends I hadn't expected to see, and we were feeling invigorated and mildly adventurous, scrambling through the woods, on our way to see the king and queen of the fairies.
The Arb makes a spectacular stage. When Puck, sent by Oberon to retrieve the magic flower, took off through the woods, he didn't just run offstage; we watched him until he was clear out of sight, his voice floating back from a distance. The lovers Puck bewitches had plenty of room to chase each other till they fell exhausted on the grass. Fairies (played by students from Emerson School) flitted among the trees ahead of us as we followed the actors from one part of the wood to another to see
the clowns rehearse their play, the fairy queen wake and fall foolishly in love with Bottom the weaver, and the lovers get thoroughly confused about who is in love with whom.
The Arb's Peony Garden and real woods, plus the camaraderie of the walks between acts, gave the play a dimension that no stage set can match. Last year the actors performed with gusto and did a remarkable job of both speaking with clarity and projecting their voices so that they could easily be heard no small feat in the open air. We'll be there again this year.
[Originally published in June, 2002.]