Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Chautauqua Institute

My family and I drove up to the Chautauqua Institute last night and saw a first-rate performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We arrived early, ate at a horrible place (I blocked out the name) near the firehouse and south gate (there, I’ve given enough information to avoid it), and went inside to wander around before our show. It really is a beautiful location, but then again, gated communities usually are. Walking around I saw fliers for a lecture series on the 12 labors of Hercules, intermediate chess lessons, an ad for their community opera house, and a wine tasting class. And the worst news? I missed every single registration date. Each year I promise myself I’m going to get more involved at the Institute – maybe learn something worthwhile that they don’t offer at MC – and every year I forget. But not next year! This “Cultural Season” may be over, but I’m really going to enroll with some of their programs next year. Really!

This was my first performance of AMND, and the show was much better than I expected. Not fantastic (the way I had imagined it), but decidedly above average (as stated: better than expected). I think the only improvement they could have made was getting Hermia and Helena to enunciate as they spoke. Both women conveyed their meanings flawlessly through body language, but much of the actual language of the play came out garbled and slurred. I’ll spare you the plot, since most of you know it, and cut to the staging.

The theatre itself is designed like an inverted ark (Noah’s, not Indie’s), and some of the angles made me think an M.C. Escher fan formatted the final draft. Aside from being rather small, the rustic, “bare bones” look of the auditorium worked quite well, especially for Shakespeare. It certainly wasn’t as elaborate or historically accurate as the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, but it was easy to imagine we were rough Elizabethans gathered around the apron for a Tuppence show. Seats with cushions, oh my goodness! (Tickets to anything at the Institute cost more than two cents, by the way.) We had a great atmosphere, helped along by an elaborate set (for Shakespeare… that seems to be the qualifier of the day, doesn’t it? “For Shakespeare!”) and effective lighting.

They covered the stage with a healthy dose of white light, but it reflected off the pale green walls of the “palace” to make a misty, almost frosty look. Then the walls rotated and a drawbridge-like portal opened in the back wall, giving us a full moon, twilight sky, icy trees, a rope swing (for acrobatics), and a soft covering of snow. It also added the convenience of a trap door without cutting a hole into their high-end stage floor. Now, if you haven’t read the play (recently, carefully, ever… it’s B.Y.O.A. day again) you might be wondering why they put frost in the middle of a midSUMMER night’s dream. Well, it makes perfect sense. Titania and Oberon – actors doubled from Hippolyta and Theseus – are the rulers of the fairies, their marriage is a bit strained, and it’s turned the seasons on their ears. See, winter in summer. To borrow from Dostoevsky, “These things do happen!”

The fairies all wore white, silver, and various glitters to tie into the frosty theme, and the bickering lovers wore pastel ball gowns and tuxedos. Even though their costumes were updated – I suspect mostly due to budgeting constraints, though how much can a toga cost? – the tradesmen were all dressed in a fusion of Elizabethan and Steam Punk styles. I want, I want!

Suffice to say everyone enjoyed it, and my father kept raving about the antics of Puck, Bottom, and Oberon well into our drive home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds excellent! Directors just LOVE blending crazy fashions into Shakespeare plays. And I love seeing them/lusting after the outfits. Glad you had a good time.