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Shakespeare Done the Right Way

Cambridge University Brings ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to MIT

By J.D. Zamfirescu

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By William Shakespeare

Cambridge University American Stage Tour

Kresge Little Theater

Sept. 29-30, 7:30 p.m.

It isn’t often that I am able to tear myself away from my routine to engage in cultural activities. So when a friend told me to go see the Cambridge University American Stage Tour’s performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I jumped at the opportunity. Shakespeare presented the way God intended -- by British people! How could I pass up such a unique opportunity?

Yes, so my justification wasn’t so great, but the performance was. With a cast of eight performing the parts of all twenty major and minor characters and a simple set designed in part for mobility, this slight adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy didn’t have much in the way of resources behind it. But that same simple set combined with the intimate atmosphere of the Kresge Little Theater allowed theater-goers to interact personally with the talented cast.

From Sarah Campbell’s brilliant and very, very humorous performance as Puck to Robert Donnelly’s wonderfully fruity interpretation of Quince, the cast lent Shakespeare’s characters a great deal of personal flavor.

For those unfamiliar with the story, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a plot more twisting than a telenovela. In a few words, there’s some issue between a bunch of Athenians who are to be married by decree, two of them (Hermia and Lysander) decide to elope, but not before telling the admirer (Helena) of the man Hermia should have married (Demetrius), had her father had his way. When the King of the Fairies (Oberon) hears about the sadness enveloping Helena, being spurned by the object of her affection, he tells his servant (Puck) to administer a love potion unto Demetrius’ eyes so that the first being he sees (hopefully Helena) he will fall hopelessly in love with. So, clearly, Puck accidentally makes Lysander fall for Helena instead of Demetrius, and there’s just a big mess, much to Puck’s delight.

Meanwhile, in a wonderful act of recursion, there is a play within a play, whose own actors are struggling with problems of their own. But of course in the end everything works out, and the right people get married.

What made the CAST’s performance uniquely wonderful for me was the many ways in which the actors took upon themselves the burden of connecting with the audience. By their own admittance, it’s fearfully easy to lose sight of the meaning behind Shakespeare’s work when involved in its intricacies for so many months, and the members of the CAST’s cast made sure to keep personal contact at the forefront of their performances. Campbell’s shrugs at the more archaic of Shakespeare’s phrases and her direct interaction with the audience on several counts helped forge a bond between audience member and character.

The incredibly humorous transformation of Bottom (Tom Cantrell) into an ass rather gifted in the phallus department provided endless amusement to the less mature of the CAST’s audience, myself included. The fairies’ voices, Puck’s insightful commentary into the nature of Quince’s fruitiness, and many other small details altogether made for an overwhelmingly positive experience for myself and for the many other audience members as well.

It is a pity that the CAST’s tour at MIT had to be so brief, but I myself certainly look forward to seeing them around in the near future, and will make sure to tear myself away once again for what is sure to be another masterful performance by some quite talented actors and actresses.