This year, almost all of Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre’s (AST) performances are scheduled to take place on the University of Central Arkansas campus. Most will be in Reynolds Performance Hall, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being performed on the lawn of McAlister Hall, at the front of campus near the fountain and practically on Donaghey Avenue. In past years, AST’s outdoor performances have taken place in Hendrix Village, so this is a change of scene for the theater company. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the show: the set and actors feel natural here.
Midsummer’s set is so important to the play that it almost takes on its own personality. Fairies, royalty and commoners hide behind pillars and clamber up ladders to spy on each other and evade each other throughout this summery romp. Lighting also played a role in the atmosphere of the production, more so than might be expected from an outdoor play. As the sun set and the natural light faded, string lights onstage seemed to grow brighter. Many cast members carried lanterns, adding to the woodsy feel of the piece.
One of the things Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre does best and, I think, makes a real effort at, is to make Shakespeare more accessible to those who haven’t studied it. For those who haven’t read the text, Midsummer can get pretty confusing: there are at least four different sets of couples and a lot of women whose names begin with “H.” Hermia, Helena, Hippolyta … who can tell?
However, even if an audience member missed the name of the person speaking or a few words of Shakespearean English, he probably got the gist of what was going on.
As far as the basic plot goes, it’s a little like this: Theseus, the ruler of Athens, wants to marry Hippolyta, but she seems unenthused about it, to say the least. Then we meet a pair of lovers separated by familial obligations (sound familiar?) and Demetrius and Helena, who aren’t a couple, much to Helena’s chagrin. Eventually, almost everyone heads to the woods, where fairies enter the mix. There’s also an actor troupe and a magical flower that makes people fall in love with each other – and I’ll stop there with my explanation of the plot before I give too much away.
The best performances in the play came, not unexpectedly, from Oberon and Puck. Paige Reynolds also deserves acclaim for her standout performance as the warrior queen Hippolyta.
See Midsummer on the McAlister lawn on July 3, July 8 and July 9. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations of $15 per person are requested.
Disclosure: I worked as an unpaid intern for Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre during the summer of 2014. I did not receive monetary compensation for my services to AST. Paige Reynolds was my supervisor during that internship and later became one of my English professors.
image via www.arkshakes.com