With a Rebel yell, I cried “More, more more!”
I am so pleased that Rebel Shakespeare found me last season. I love Shakespeare. I have kids. I expose my kids to Shakespeare. Which is precisely what the Rebels do – Shakespeare for kids, by kids. Earlier this season I saw teen Hamlet. This weekend? 8-14yr olds doing Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even better, the whole family, all the way down to my 3yr old, came out for the event!
I’ve said in the past that I get a little tired of Dream, because it’s produced so darned much and I’d like to see some other plays that I’ve never actually seen live. As I get older (and my kids learn to appreciate Shakespeare as well) I’ve got new love for Dream. It doesn’t have to be acted perfectly. It’s pretty darned near perfect on the page, and giving children an opportunity to get up there and act it out gives them a chance to touch it.
Many of the parts were clearly silly. There was lots of….well, screaming. Ironically most of the 8yr olds doing the screaming may not get this reference, but think Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. They screamed to announce that they were coming on stage, they screamed when they bumped into each other in the forest, the fairies screamed at each other to fly away. I suppose that’s an interesting directorial choice. 8yr olds can be told “Scream, just go AHHHHHHH! It’ll be funny, people will laugh.” And we did. Many times.
Which brings me to Egeus (father to Hermia, for those unfamiliar with the details of the play). Normally he’s got a pretty simple role – show up, treat his daughter like property and say he’d rather have her dead than disobey him…and then show up again at the end of the play to say all is forgiven, of course now that Demetrius wants to marry Helena.
Well this time, a young lady is playing Egeus. Fine. She’s dressed in men’s clothes (tie, vest, funny hat) and carrying a very large shot gun. And yes, she enters screaming, and does lots of it. It was hysterical. Lysander tries to touch Hermia and gets his hand slapped. At one point Egeus goes a little bananas, I can’t remember exactly the line, but she ends up in the middle of the stage holding the gun on everybody. She totally stole her scenes, and I think she knew it. I honestly could not tell if this was someone who’d never acted before and was over the top out of nerves, or if she knew exactly what she was doing. (What was weird to me, though, was that they did change script to call her ‘mother’ instead of ‘father’, even though she was dressed like father. Made it all the more zany, like ok why is this crazy woman dressed like that and packing a big gun?? Although it did kill Lysander’s joke when he says “Demetrius you have Hermia’s father’s love, marry him.” Saying “her mother’s love, marry her” isn’t quite the same :)).
The rest of the cast as well were really quite impressive. I particularly liked Oberon, who went back and forth between roaring at the other fairies (Puck included), to watching Helena and Hermia fight it out with a sort of “Oh no she didn’t!” look on his (Oberon’s) face the whole time.
One of the best staging moments came courtesy of Oberon. Behind us (remember, this is an outdoor play) is a very large bunch of rocks, almost cliff like. Big enough that you could find your way up there, but that you’d likely hurt yourself if you jumped off, too. My son has pointed out to me that there are boys playing up there, and it looks like one of the stage managers has shooed them away. A few minutes later while I’m watching the stage, my son is watching the other direction and says, “He’s gonna fall if he doesn’t get down.”
“That’s ok,” I tell him, not looking. “Someone will make them get down.”
“No,” says my son, turning my face in the other direction, “It’s the king!”
Sure enough, while the action rages on the stage, Oberon is perched up on the cliff watching the whole thing. Brilliant. I bet most of the audience never even realized it, until Oberon started delivering lines from up there and they were left wondering where the voice came from. Great idea.
Sometimes, it’s all about the little things. For my money, the funniest moment? Not counting all of Bottom’s scenes, of course, which we’ll get to in a minute :). The funniest moment comes after Oberon and Puck realize that they’ve screwed up the love potion and are now trying to fix it. They’ve put the drops into Demetrius’ eyes so that he’ll fall in love with the next person he sees. Well, as he wakes, Demetrius turns so that he is facing … Lysander. Quick as a flash, Puck jumps on stage, grabs Demetrius’ face in his hands and points him at Helena, then disappears again. I don’t know if everybody there thought that as funny as I did, but I laughed for a long time. Oh how different the play would have been!
Back to Bottom. This kid’s born to the stage, no doubt about it. When your whole troop is basically overacting, and you need to be the guy that is the obvious overacting one, you really need to kick it up a notch. He certainly delivered. To their credit, the rest of the Mechanicals were not to be upstaged, either. Thisbe, Lion, Wall… all did wonderfully in their roles and got their share of the laughs. None of the audience lines (“Well shone, Moon!” et al) could be heard from where I sat, which was a little sad as those are some of my favorite parts. I always say “Well roared, Lion!” whenever my son plays monsters.
Sure, there were times that my hopes were high, only to be crushed a bit. Oberon rode right over the “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows….” speech without any recognition at all for the quality of the poetry. And Bottom tripped up on the “Eye of man have not heard, ear of man hath not seen” bit. But really, that was more of out of hope than expectation on my part. Is it really possible to tell a 10 yr old (they were all about 8-14 I’m told so it’s hard to guess at exactly what the ages were and I don’t want to imply they were all 8) that she’s delivering lines that have been heralded as perfect for the last 400 years? Would she understand what you’re saying, and, if she did, would she not crack under the pressure? Perhaps better at these earliest ages to focus on getting the funny down, first, and then worrying about the details. Keri Cahill, the founder of Rebel Shakespeare, has 20 years more experience than I at this.
Ok, have to wrap this up. Can I say a couple words about the professionalism of these kids? It started to downpour on them – twice. They never broke stride. As we all huddled under the tent, they persevered. We couldn’t hear a word they were saying, of course, but they were doing their best. I saw blood on a couple of the girls who must have banged knees on the wooden stage or something, and yet they continued. I don’t mean scratches, I mean we the audience were watching the blood run down Helena’s leg. That must have hurt. It’s hot, they’re in full costume, and at times the direction calls for them to wander around out in the audience. And I never saw anybody freeze, or miss a cue, or break character. Not a bad job at all for a 4 week program!
I look forward to next year’s season!
7yr old : “I liked the little guy at the beginning.”
”No, the crazy one.”
“Oh, Egeus? Hermia’s father?”
”Yeah, Egeus. I really liked it, I think people should see it. I liked it better than Henry V.”
5yr old : “I liked the two girls.”
“The ones that were fighting? Helena and Hermia?”
3yr old : “I liked the Lion!”