A satirical forest farce about blind love, plotting fairies, and humankind's silliness, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the Bard's most popular works. In it, a love triangle goes from bad to worse when four young Athenians find themselves in an enchanted wood, then are drugged and heckled by the resident fairy monarchy. While Midsummer strays from the toil and trouble of the tragedies, it's still quintessentially Shakespearean in its depiction of our unrelenting obsessions with love and jealousy. Recently, it was produced at both Cal Shakes and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. San Jose Rep's decision to perform the play this season, however, had little to do with the comedy's popularity -- and everything to do with Anne Bogart.
An internationally revered theater artist, Bogart heads the SITI Company, a movement-oriented theater group that draws primarily from two acting techniques: the Viewpoints (derived in part from postmodern dance) and the Suzuki Method (influenced by Japanese and Greek theater traditions). SITI has gained major props for innovative work that relies less on elaborate costumes and multimedia than on attention to language, body, and breath. When SJ Rep asked SITI to be part of its 2004 season, Bogart was a virgin to the Bard. Why then choose Midsummer for its maiden voyage?
"To me, Midsummer is the most about theater magic," says Bogart during a recent phone interview. She is quick to point out, however, that dressing up this production with outrageous devices and gimmicks is not the idea. "I am interested in the relationships of all the characters. I'd rather let the magic come through those instead of special effects."
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As a jumping-off point, Bogart set the play in the world of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, compelled by the notion of the Depression in connection with our current failing economy.
"We live in a country where the poor are getting poorer and the rich, richer more than ever in history," she says, adding that the problem has trickled down to the theater. "A lot of the venues we used to tour in can't even afford us anymore. I can't pretend that this economic problem doesn't exist." While the play is scored with '30s tunes, Bogart's Dust Bowl is more a metaphor for scarcity and material lack than a literal interpretation of that historical time and place. The stage is bare, the set beautiful and austere -- its floor a mirror and its backdrop simply clouds.
The idea of sparseness also ties into a Zenlike view of the characters' evolution, as they learn that nothingness can lead to abundance. "Midsummer begins in Athens, in a system that is hierarchical and authoritarian," says Bogart. "But by the end, every character realizes that they know nothing, that the world is a much wider place."