Dream Within a Dream: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the ARTS at Marks
By Community Reviewer Teia O’Malley
[On 8/21] I went to see a unique rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Arts at Mark’s Garage. What made this production special is that the whole cast was women and the cast only spoke in made-up languages. Instead of doing the play with the traditional Shakespearean lines, this version used made up languages instead. There were two separate languages in the show, one for the humans, and another for the fairies. However, the languages weren’t just improvised, they were created from scratch just like the languages from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, albeit not quite as complex. We spoke with the director Tony Pisculli afterwards and he told us that the languages were translated phonetically, word for word on a computer program, rather than linguistically, which enabled them to keep the rhymes as well as the line and meter. The languages were quite successful at being distinctly different from one another. The human language was reminiscent of Greek, Italian and Latin and when we spoke to the director he said it had been based on Greek. The base letters were mostly P, B, S, and T. The fairy language sounded like a Slavic language also with hints of Swedish, German, and Russian. The sounds were more based in the Z, V, S, and F category and was a lot more guttural and harsh.
In the human language, I also noticed a few words that I recognized from other languages such as qui and amore (here and love in Italian), and leo (lion in Latin). They had left some words untranslated so as to clue the audience in on the subject of the conversation. For example, they left in all the names, as well as “rock” (for the wall in the players’ play), and “leo” for lion. And even though the language was different, the plot was fairly well explained without words (although it helped that I already knew it well). Only the small details were lost by the language barrier.
With an all woman cast, there was a moment where figuring out who was who in the group of the four main lovers difficult as all their costumes were very similar. Because of the language barrier, the actors had to spend a lot more effort on acting physically rather than orally. They had to convey more with their eyes and bodies, and they did well at communicating what was happening. However what I was most impressed with was the actors’ ability to act the lines even though they weren’t speaking English. Rather than just speaking the lines, they had inflections and stressed different words and sounded very confident and fluid. It was as if they were speaking a language they had spoken since birth. It made you feel as though it was normal and almost made you forget the language was made up. For individual actresses, my favourite was the one who played Bottom (Christina Uyeno). She absolutely stole the show with her physical acting and complete control over the language. Another aspect that added to Bottom’s performance for me was that I know Bottom’s speech about “Let me play the lion too!” and spent the time of the speech comparing the speech in my mind to what Bottom said. It was very interesting that the two were not very different, and knowing what was “supposed” to be said allowed me to see parallels between the words and what they were translated into. It gave me a greater grasp of the language. One of the highlights was when one of the players read a script and was very good at acting as though she were really timid and unconfident at reading it for the first time. She made a very clear difference between the stuttering nervous speech and the regular words she spoke.
The lighting and costuming was a huge boost in the fairy scenes. The fairies were dressed in brightly coloured reptilian body suits that made them look like lizards, and with a green coloured lighting scheme during the fairy scenes, that added to the air of mystery of the fairies. The green lighting and unusual costumes added to the dream-like spectacle of the play. Another thing that added to the dream effect was the way the entrances were accentuated. The doorways were embroidered with yarn and the yarn had strips of lights running through it that lit up when someone was entering through the door. This made it seem even more supernatural in a way, which just cemented my uneasy feeling of the play being made to seem like a dream.
My overall favourite part of the play was a staging moment towards the end of the show. This was during Lysander (Jordan Clara Ihilani Sasaki) and Demetrius’(Shayna Chung) fight for Helena (Jennifer Fachan). The fight was orchestrated by Puck (Amrita Mallik), whose first move was to make the sky pitch black so the fight was blind. So from there, the fight became a great show of creative choreography that included the two passing right by each other and not seeing, or one of them almost impaling themselves on the other’s sword before realizing and creeping away. The fight continued for a few moments with Puck nudging them together and confusing them before Puck cast a spell to make them fall asleep. From there, Helena and Hermia (Alisa Boland) entered consecutively; each of them saying their monologue and wandering the stage while cleverly avoiding Demetrius and Lysander lying on the floor. Each time, Puck let them wander before making them fall asleep next to their correct love. With all four of them lying on the floor, Puck and Oberon (Stephanie Keiko Kong) arranged them so that the first thing they would see when they wake up would be the right person. The whole scene played out so well and was very visually appealing.
The perhaps the most intriguing part of the production was the last 6 lines spoken. Puck was on the stage and the lights went green and dim and she said her lines. “If we shadows have offended/Think but this, and all is mended/That you have but slumber'd here/While these visions did appear/And this weak and idle theme/No more yielding but a dream.” But the important part is that the lines were said in English with an interesting accent derived from her fairy language. The fact that we could now understand what was being said and that the lines themselves were about a dream made the experience surreal. As I was watching, I thought that this made the whole play seem like a dream. Towards the end, I felt as though I had just begun to understand what was being said, but with these last lines, it was like we had been imagining everything from the start. It was as though Puck was waking us up from a dream.