Brush up your Shakespeare

By Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
June 12, 2018 10:00 a.m.

Shakespeare’s a tough sell. From my audience perspective, the plays seem as hard to play as they are to connect with. The language is not our English and the puns don’t resonate as well. The thing that saves the plays for contemporary audiences is that the themes are universal – love, betrayal, valor, egotism; it’s all there. But that’s primarily true of the tragedies.

The comedies present a slightly different issue. Comedy tends to be more topical. It trades on themes that are more particular to their time. In the case of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the plot is hard to grasp, much less appreciate. Star crossed lovers, uncrossed and re-crossed? Fairies? A troupe of rough players? A play within a play?

Given those impediments, why bother.? For the first few minutes of ACT’s performance last Friday, I did wonder what I’d been thinking when I bought a ticket. But then something began to emerge from the play. We consider Shakespeare through his words so the delivery of the lines can be problematic. I began to notice something different from what I was expecting.

Director Tener Wade made good use of the physical comedy that the play allows. Helena not only pursues Demetrios, she literally grabs him by the foot at one point. It doesn’t matter if we get every word she’s saying, we understand her actions. And we laugh. Similarly, the verbal duels between Lysander and Demetrios are accompanied by physical jabs and grappling. We know what is happening.

Bottom’s dramatics had the audience laughing and he was very nearly outdone by Flute. By allowing the actors to be over the top, their speeches are augmented. If we don’t get the puns and jokes as well, the physical comedy translates perfectly and gives us a way into the spirit of the play.

These actors have taken on a challenging task. Reading Shakespeare’s lines is tricky. The cast did a good job. I’ve seen some great actors be almost unintelligible in delivery. Sir Ian McKellen, he of Gandolph and Magneto fame, required all my attention to figure out what he was saying in “Richard III.”

ACT excels in designing sets that serve as a multitude of venues. This simple set was a palace, Quince’s house, and a forest, It was bathed in lights that moved and cast color across the scenery.

I suggest you give the play a try. You may spend the first few scenes wondering if I’m insane. Please don’t leave after intermission. The play within a play is worth the evening.

Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.