The great thing about Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that you can lift the plot out of its setting and place it at any time and in any place and it will still make sense. This version keeps the beauty of Shakespeare’s language and places it in a nineteenth or twentieth century looking New Orleans. The story takes place on St John’s Eve, a time where spiritual forces could pass through the boundaries between this world and the afterlife.
One of the original rom-coms, A Midsummer Night’s Dream In New Orleans, begins with the duke of Athens (Athens, Georgia in this version) preparing to marry Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons with a four-day festival – the most important voodoo holiday or the year, honouring the great Hoodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Meanwhile, the Duke’s daughter Hermia is brought in as she wants to marry Lysander but her father expects her to marry Demetrius who Helena is in love with. Matters get messier when the four youngsters escape to a forest where they fall victim to Oberon and Titania’s discrepancies.
The music is really brilliant and completely captures the atmosphere of the New Orleans festival. It is somewhat reminiscent to Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, even using Randy Newman’s song from the film. It’s a skillful cast that also take on the role of the orchestra too. It really creates a marvelous party atmosphere. This cast is quite sensational, especially eighteen year old Jonathan Ajyi who plays Lysander with talent surpassing his years. There is a perfect balance of farcical humour, drama and a love story to make a rather engaging performance.
It isn’t very clear that the play it set in New Orleans. Only through the accents put on by the actors and the theme of the voodoo festival does the location become visible. Actually, the story appears to be set in Athens, Georgia which makes the title particularly confusing. Other than that, there isn’t much, apart from the title, that alludes to the location. Interestingly, it appears that the Duke’s objection to Hermia and Lysander is because he is black but it is difficult to know for sure as it isn’t even mentioned but just makes sense in context.
The play-within-a–play at the end of the show seems rather redundant as it is quite uncomfortable to watch and overplays the role of the fools. While it is appreciated that it is part of the script, it could have been cut down or performed entirely differently.
Shakespeare is expert at his choice of words. undoubtedly; however, the cast execute Shakespeare’s language with such perfect timing that they make his comedy even funnier that it normally would be. For any Shakespeare fan, this is quite a nice play to see. It would be even better if there was more to show for its setting and if the Festival took a more prominent role in the play.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans plays Arts Theatre until 29 August. For more information and tickets, see the Arts Theatre website. Photo by Arts Theatre.