Is it despite or because of what's done to them that Shakespeare's plays still work? The question need not vex - for where would directors be without them? - but it should be recognized.
At Shakespeare's American HQ (Capitol Hill's Folger Shakespeare Library) the reigning production concept is to be With It, however belatedly. The Folger Theater Group's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which opened over the weekend for Tuesday-Sunday performances, works as hard-driving comedy. One does not argue with audience satisfaction.
We get a whiff of the celebrated gymnastic warmup of Peter Brook's late '60s version. This turns, through William Penn's music and Virginia Freeman's choreography, into a touch of "A Chorus Line." Though Brook wasn't the first to combine Theseus and Oberon, Hipployta and Titania, Philostrate and Puck, that's the version chosen by director Harold Scott. We then get a diminutive Hermia, sounding like an angry Bronx stenographer, from Marcell Rosenblatt and a towering Helena by Deborah Mayo, recalling Paula Prentiss' Rosalind in Central Park. Some word changes accommodate the casting, though some which might have been changed are not.
In addition to the monkey shines of clowns' "Pyramus and Thisby," the accent throughout is on comedy, with Andrew Davis as a sometimes touchingly dazed Lysander and Count Stovall an assertive Demetrius.
In brief, no lyrical touches for the poetry, no romantic haze for the moonlit speeches, no ethereal gauziness for Elizabeth Perry's Titania. Now that everyone has been on the moon, at least figuratively, has moonlight lost its verbal spell and Puck his magic? Bottom with a donkey's head and Titania caressing his legs is not a figure of fun but a Be-Kind-To-Wild-life poster. Who's going to believe all that moony stuff?
So, with Terry Hinz as an affable Bottom, Anthony Call as the hardworking Theseus/Oberon and far too many lines puncutated with ha-ha-has, it can be said that this verson of love in the moonlight did not put anyone to sleep. There's really not much stage space to conjure up midsummer greenery and if combining the rulers of Athens and the Amazons with those of the fairies lessens confusions and body count, okay, okay. But the Folger's version is not as funny as it thinks it is.