A Sparkling Production!
Under the masterful collaboration of co-directors Paul Mitri (UH Prof of Theatre) and Sai Bhatawadekar (UH Assoc Prof of Hindi/Urdu) A Midsummer Night's Bollywood Dream fused into a sparkling production that more than transcended the sum of its parts. Never mind that the 6+ months-long rehearsal process must have been a tremendous learning experience for the enormous and fully-committed cast, or the fact that the composer/arranger/music director Ike Webster created an entirely original score of Indian raga music while bringing a new baby into the world, the way in which East met West in this bold theatrical adventure was thoroughly entertaining. Each scene commanded attention and propelled the audience into the next, never giving us a moment to notice the passing of time.
In the pre-show talk-story Saturday evening, Paul Mitri offered his mantra that Shakespeare must not be treated as a museum piece, and this production more than proved that vision. I have both performed in and directed MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, but sitting spellbound in my seat as this version unfolded, I was able to forget I'd ever seen it before. Bless her heart, during the talk-story session, Sai Bhatawadekar tried to teach her audience the first four lines of the opening musical number, and while not entirely successful in getting us to where we could sing along, it certainly drove home the point of how much work must have been involved in mastering the difficult language and alien music in order to deliver it with grace and authority, as did the cast.
There was a terrific integrity to the production as the Shakespearian world of mortals caught in the spat between the magical uber beings Oberon (Abhima) and Titania (Tarana) played out, richly supported by UH MFA student Christian Londos' magnificent sets, UH MFA student Joseph Governale's incandescent lighting design, and UH Kennedy Theatre's new costume department head Maile Speetjen's rich and extraordinarily detailed costumes. It felt as though adding the Bollywood conceit lifted the familiar story into a new dimension. Sound design by Rick Greaver masterfully enhanced the production, not only for the musical numbers, but also for his subtle support of the magical effects throughout.
In a uniformly gifted cast there were many outstanding performances to applaud. Christine Lamborn and Jarren Amian were sensual, powerful and compelling (as well as visually stunning), as Queen and King of the Fairy world. One could easily believe that their disharmony might create serious global upheaval. One could also assume that when in alignment, their sex must be fantastic. Emily Steward's dynamic performance as a saucy, colorful Helena (Leena) with those amazing platform shoes was great fun to watch unfold.
The relationships within each cadre of characters--the Nobles, the Lovers, the Fairies (both sides!), and the deliciously amateurish Rude Mechanicals--grew as the story proceeded, and culminated in their own, very special moments. I'm thinking in particular of the glorious 4-fold lovers' confusion-climax quarrel, and the exquisitely executed Rude Mechanicals' version of the play-within-the-play, rife with ingenious sight-gags and character touches. When Flute (Fattu Flute--Dean Mo) threw off his (her?) scarf and played Thisbe's lament for Pyramis' death as full-on tragedy, after having performed the epitome of bad amateur singing, the audience shifted almost instantly from laughter to stunned/awed silence in a heartbeat, such was the power of that moment.
The choreography throughout was fabulous, and the cast performed it all with full-on exuberance. The dances were delicious, the fights, delightfully inventive, the fairies' manipulation of energy across the stage, well, magical. The energy shared by the two Bak-Baks--(the role of Puck split into two, doubling the delight) Dylan Lee and Qalil Ismail was phenomenal.
There were exciting directorial choices throughout, one of which was the use of shadow puppets for the Prologue to the Act V play-within-a-play, executed by the Rude Mechanicals working the puppets behind a hastily-erected screen, while the anxious-to-please Peter Quince (Guru--most effectively portrayed throughout by Malia Wessel) recited the story. Having Wall stomp out with cement blocks attached to her shoes was nothing short of brilliant, just an example of the attention to detail right through the production. Giving Lion his very own Bollywood dance number, after hearing him say earlier that he was "slow of speech" was wonderful fun.
In all, the musical numbers enhanced and lifted the production, and the demands of the over-the-top Bollywood stylization inspired full-bore commitment to the piece, endowing it with a thrilling authority.
Start to finish, A Midsummer Night's Bollywood Dream was a pleasure to experience. Bravo/Brava to all involved!
Written by Eden Lee Murray.