Preview: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Shakespeare comedy, despite its title, makes good holiday entertainment

Wintry weather is upon us, but that is not stopping Prague Shakespeare Company from doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Divadlo Na Prádle on Dec. 7, 8, 9 and 12.

American stage director Lisa Wolpe is directing as well as appearing in the first two shows. She has worked with PSC before as a director and also has given a one-woman show, but this is her first time performing in a cast.

She is known or exploring gender and diversity issues in classic plays, and will be doing the same with A Midsummer Night’s Tale by changing the genders of some of the characters but at the same time sticking closely to Shakespeare’s original text.

The play will run 90 minutes, as some of the wordplay and rhetorical flourished have been cut out. Wolpe told Prague.TV that the original audiences were in a fairly loud and rowdy environment and the plays have some repetitiveness to compensate. Some of the redundancy is cut to pick up the pace. “We have the audience trapped with their cell phones off. We don’t need to repeat what somebody just said,” Wolpe pointed out. “We kept plenty of wordplays, though.”

“It is a big cast with music and movement and magic,” Wolpe said, estimating that counting the alternates there were 20 people. “It is gender-bent and has an international cast. It explores gender politics in a good and thorough way,” she said, adding that the play retained its humor, and there were clowning and other fun stuff going on.

She likes to see what different perspectives the cast can bring, and that has helped to make this production different than the previous times she has staged the same play. “It has been a great journey,” she said. “You can interpret it many ways.”

Over the summer, she did a student workshop production of the same play. PSC’s artistic director Guy Roberts was impressed with it and asked Wolpe to return to do another version with a professional cast.

British Ambassador Jan Thompson OBE is playing Puck, the trouble-making hobgoblin. She has appeared in several PSC productions since the start of her tenure in Prague in 2013.

“Jan is great to work with. She is really intelligent, very professional and she has that mischievous quality that makes her puck quite fun to watch,” Wolpe said.

Czech actress Sarah Haváčová, who is currently also at the National Theatre in the Czech version of New Century by Paul Rudnick, is in the cast as Hermia, one of the central characters in the love story.

A whole family is involved, with Scott Bellefeuille in the cast and Eva Bellefeuille doing the costumes, and their young son playing the changeling.

“In this production, what is significant for me is that the lovers are all older people. Often times the lovers are 17 or 18 years old. The best actors in the auditions were older actors, It gives me a lot more sophistication and less of that sort of two-dimensional ingenue quality. I appreciate in the rehearsal room the sophistication of a 40 or 50-year-old lover.”

Despite the summer setting, she says it is a good Christmas story because of the magical elements and the focus on the child character.

Wolpe likes the space at Divadlo Na Prádle, which opens up a lot of possibilities for staging including having actors up at a higher level on the side of the balcony, making for interesting entrances and exits. “You can play from the base to the Divine,” she said.

She also likes to work with an international cast, as people bring their own backgrounds. She said that while she was teaching here a student from India looked at Romeo and Juliet from the point of view that everyone would have been better off if Juliet had gone along with an arranged marriage and not gone against her family’s wishes, which is not the typical interpretation.

She counts A Midsummer Night’s Dream as one of her favorites, along with Twelfth Night, Othello, Richard III and Hamlet. “Those are probably my favorite five,” she said.

She also likes The Winter's Tale, which partly takes place in a rather mythical Bohemia that has a seacoast. “There is a lot of magic in that play, too. A lot of fairytale energy,” she said.

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