As if slapstick comedy, mischievous magic, Elizabethan spoken word, and romantic mayhem weren’t enough, Pomona College’s production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” also includes hip-hop dancing fairies.
The play, directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Carolyn Ratteray, turns Shakespeare’s comedy into a gender-bending and thought-provoking performance.
I attended the preview April 4 and was amazed at the sheer talent and ridiculous fun of the play. Written in 1595, the play tells the tale of marriage woes, love triangles, a disapproving father, tricksters, scheming husbands, silly craftspeople, an asshead, and yes, a fairy kingdom. This production takes place in “the really not too distant future,” according to the program pamphlet.
Hermia (Maya Barbon PZ ’21) and Lysander (Gbeke Fawehinmi PO ’19), typically played by a man but in this show played by a woman, are in love. Hermia’s father Egeus (Owen Halstad PO ’21) wants her to marry Demetrius (Ben Hogoboom PO ’19), who loves Hermia, while Helena (Winnie Stack PZ ’18) is in love with Demetrius.
Chaos ensues as the various lovers flee into the forest and are put under magic spells by Oberon, King of the Fairies (Shanawar Zahoor PZ ’21), who is fighting with his wife Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Megan Marshall PO ’20).
Everything about the play contributed to its beautiful, mystical, and hip-hoppy atmosphere. The set incorporated deep blues, purples, and greens, from the color-changing lighting to the graffiti backdrop to the long strands of leaves and flowers hanging from the ceiling. I could almost see the fairy magic floating in the air on stage.
The costumes, designed by Wardrobe Supervisor Devon Horn PO ’18, made the world come alive. The fairy dancers wore traditional hip-hop style clothing but with red and blue glittery touches that sparkled when they danced.
Puck, the trickster fairy, and Oberon and Titania, all wore bright, crazy wigs, and equally vibrant makeup. The humans in the story wore dull, plain costumes when outside the forest, but their clothes changed into more colorful attire after spending time in the fairy realm.
The hip-hop element was probably my favorite part of the show. Soft, rhythmic tracks played in the background of some of the scenes. There was one long hip-hop dance in the first act, performed by the fairies, and two in the second act.
The dances, choreographed by Pomona Lecturer in Dance Elm Pizarro, perfectly blended hip-hop style with a magical, fantastical setting. The way the fairies walked and moved in regular scenes looked like they were dancing, too.
The actors managed to make Shakespeare’s lines sound like spoken word poetry and rap. Puck, played by Berto Gonzalez PO ’20, speaks almost completely in rhyme. When speaking his monologues to the audience against the hip-hop background music in perfect tempo, it sounded like a hip-hop rap verse.
The actors all recited their complex Elizabethan English lines without any mistakes. Their comedic timing and use of exaggerated body movements were equal to those of professionals I have seen perform Shakespeare’s plays in the past.
The great part about having actors who can command the language so well is that even the audience members least versed in Shakespeare can understand what is going on. I could tell what was funny and laughed out loud even when I didn’t know what the character had just said. Throughout the show, the audience was full of laughter and applause.
If you are looking for hip-hop music, untraditional romance, fantasy, and a whole lot of laughs, go see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Pomona’s Seaver Theatre this weekend, April 6 at 8 p.m.; April 7 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and April 8 at 2 p.m.
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