The FSU/Asolo Conservatory has an edgy condensation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” making the rounds at Florida schools and select performing arts venues. It’s 45 minutes long. The magical forest borders a snooty New England boarding school, not the outskirts of Athens. The sound track is hip-hop and trance, not Mendelssohn. The fairies look like they’ve just fluttered back from a Phish concert.
It’s only sacrilege if it was sacred in the first place. Shakespeare doesn’t belong on a pedestal, let alone in church. It’s a sexy, surreal, subversive production. To be fair, so is the source material.
Jen Wineman's adaptation is true to the earthy source, just shorter, with a different local habitation. Her modern-day substitutions are easy to follow. Instead of Athens, it’s the Athens Academy. Theseus is now the principal, Hippolyta the dean. The mixed-up young lovers wear prep school uniforms, not togas. The “rude mechanicals” who put on the bad play-within-a-play are the school custodial and lunchroom staff.
Setting and costumes have changed, but the dream remains the same.
Wineman also directs — and keeps the dreamy action going with takes, double takes, and athletic bits of business verging on dance. Mr. Shakespeare’s Wild Ride is punctuated with intermittent snippets of pop music, either too obviously on the nose or just a little bit off, but always hilarious. As wild as it gets, everything flows from the text. The implied lesson for future theater pros?
Shakespeare’s words are a playground of infinite possibilities. This is only one of them. Play around and create your own.
The cast is comprised of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s third-year acting students. These young actors clearly enjoy the playground, most playing double or triple roles in a quick-change ensemble production.
The standouts: Oberon (Paul Herbig) and Titania (Olivia Williamson), the rock star rulers of Fairyland; Andrea Adnoff’s mischievous, never malicious and always sexy Puck, and Brian Owen’s language-mangling Bottom. (Spoiler alert!) With the aid of a few magic flowers, the poor guy winds up with donkey’s ears and Titania falls in love with him. To take the comedy up a notch, Puck and Oberon sit (invisibly) watching the scene, eating popcorn as if enjoying a movie. Evidently, “Pyramus and Thisbe” isn’t the only play-within-a-play going on here. The foolish mortals are putting on a production for the fairies whether they like it or not.
Nice touch. Nice insight.
Hey, you could learn something here.
Indeed. As you probably guessed, there’s an educational intent lurking in the magic forest. Presented by Asolo Rep, it’s part of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s New Stages program, which creates a speed-the-play adaptation of Shakespeare, then takes it on the road to Florida schools each fall. This isn’t a Shakespeare substitute. It’s a doorway into Shakespeare — a taste that leaves you wanting more.
That said, the edited play stands on its own. Condensing a work of art is an art in its own right. And what a tricky art it is. Done wrong, it’s a Procrustean hatchet job. Done right, it distills the essence. Wineman succeeds artfully, both as playwright and director. Together with the actors and creative crew, she makes Shakespeare’s magic come alive.
IF YOU GO
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs Oct. 11 at the Out-of-Door Academy’s Kozel Family Amphitheater, 444 Reid St., Sarasota; Oct. 23 at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center, 7333 Scotland Way, Sarasota; Nov. 8 at Fogartyville, 525 Kumquat Court, Sarasota. Call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org/conservatory for more information.