Reprising the Debut's Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream of 2001
by Helen Hill
Note: This review of the 2001 debut of Shakespeare in the Arb ran in the June 2002 Observer. A revival of this Residential College production of A Midsummer Night's Dream runs Thurs.-Sun. June 3-20. (See Inside Ann Arbor story.)
Entering the Arb Peony Garden from Observatory, we were met by bed after bed of peonies in full bloom and by recorder players and a guitarist, dressed in Elizabethan costume, who played an overture of sixteenth century tunes, while parents with children, students, and townspeople of all ages wandered in through the garden 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 bride-to-be strolled in on the grass between us and the gardens, both peacefully anticipating their wedding four days hence. They were followed by the two other sets of lovers whose lives will be much stormier before the play is 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, mildly adventurous, scrambling through the woods, on our way to see the quarrels between the king and queen of the fairies and one of the sets of lovers.
Later, when Puck, sent by Oberon to retrieve the magic flower that will cause so much mischief, took off through the woods, he didn't just run off stage; we watched him run far away. His voice floated 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 faerie queen wake and fall foolishly in love with Bottom the weaver, and the lovers get thoroughly confused about who is in love with whom. Shakespeare's fantasies were coming to life all around us.
The Arb is a perfect setting for an enchanting play on a summer afternoon or evening. The peony garden, the live woods, the camaraderie on the walks between acts give the play a dimension that no stage set can provide. Last year the actors performed with gusto and did a remarkable job both of speaking with clarity and projecting their voices so that they could easily be heard--no small feat in the open air. We're planning to go again.
[Originally published in June, 2010.]