April 14, 2012 - Chapel Hill, NC:
A warm spring day in Chapel Hill's Polk Place (the main quad on campus) was the setting of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend, presented by the completely student-run Company Carolina. This UNC-Chapel Hill company is based on a professional theater model, with students in all positions, from actors to directors to marketing and publicity coordinators. This is their first "Shakespeare on the Quad" production, which the Company hopes to make an annual event.
Student director Daniel Doyle chose to get the audience involved in the action by allowing for the actors to move throughout the grassy area where the audience was seated. The location of this play similarly required a little bit of audience participation. The first scene took place on the steps of the Louis Round Wilson Library, a giant, historic building which served to take the audience back in time. Then, after the "cast" had been assigned, we all trekked back over to the grassy area, where we were encouraged to sit close enough to hear the actors; as being outside brought its share of ambient noise. There were campus tours, a UNC football game, and a Science Expo all happening simultaneously, so the actors were careful to project over the resulting noise and only a few lines were lost in the more intimate one-on-one scenes between Hermia and Demetrius.
Despite a few minor distractions, the setting of the play, in a pretty corner of the quad under some beautiful trees, contributed to the night forest setting in which most of the action takes place. The fairies blended right in with nature, adorned with flowers, body paint, and bright clothing that gave them an ethereal look. Similarly, the costuming of the Athenians was well-done; contemporary enough to make them believable but Shakespearean enough to distinguish the actors from the audience and passers-by.
A Midsummer Night's Dream has a great mix of comedy, drama, and fantasy already, and Company Carolina certainly did not fail to capture all of the nuances of Shakespeare's writing. They livened up the dialogue, adding a few contemporary references – and even songs! – to make the humor obvious, since the average person's usual complaint about Shakespeare plays is not being able to understand the language(!).
The "actors," including Snout, Bottom, Flute, and Peter Quince, were hilarious, and the more serious characters like Helena, Lysander, Demetrius, and Hermia, were enjoyable and funny at times. This production featured a lot of well-choreographed fight scenes that were often very comical, as well, but well-done. Puck, Titania, Oberon, and the fairies were also particularly endearing to the audience because of their amusement at the mortals' plight and also their care that everything be set right again.
Company Carolina presented a high-quality performance, although in the future they might make their location a little easier to find; the dark green and gold set pieces tended to blend in with the trees and grass of the Quad, and their hand-spray-painted signage was a little unclear. Don't be fooled by the rough signs, though. The Company knows how to do Shakespeare right and I wish them the best in giving everyone the opportunity to come see a new, organic, interpretation of the master playwright.
A Midsummer Night's Dream will continue on April 21 and 22 at 3:00pm in Polk Place, near the Louis Round Wilson Library - for details, see the sidebar. The performance is "BYOB" (bring your own blanket!) and sunscreen/sunglasses are recommended because it is a very sunny area. This is Company Carolina's final production for the season.