A dream of a `Dream': Shakespeare as fierce social commentary
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If you think all this sounds too far-fetched for a ``standard'' work like ``Dream,'' you may have something. This is a masterly interpretation, but, inevitably, it has to forfeit the logic of the lines at times. There are two voices speaking to you from the stage -- Shakespeare's and Ciulei's -- and sometimes Ciulei shouts down the Bard. When this happens, everything involved -- actors' readings, set design, busybody stage action -- seems to rebel against the literal meaning of the words as the dramaticSkip to next paragraph
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poetry is laid on the Procrustean bed of whatever point the director wants to make.
But these lapses of meaning happen only at the most perverse moments and may be the inevitable price of Ciulei's contrary, masterfully realized vision. Meanwhile, some scenes delightfully underscore the inherent meaning of a line. When artisans rehearse a show for the court, for instance, their boisterous camaraderie is a comic delight without being burlesqued. And when they put on the play -- reasonable fellows reduced to dolts by stage fright -- their slapstick incompetence is a wonder to
behold. It is the immemorial comedy of amateurs-as-actors that has been used throughout theatrical history -- from the Bard to TV's ``The Honeymooners.''
Ciulei also triumphs in that graveyard of directors' hopes, the world of fairies presided over by King Oberon and Queen Titania. In other ``Dream'' productions I've seen, actors have been hoisted into the air on cables or have pussyfooted across the stage -- all in a doomed effort to appear ethereal.
In Ciulei's hands, these moments are magic. He has made stirring use of those often lost elements in modern theater, spectacle and mystery -- and has even employed Philip Glass music to reinforce the effects. Besides the opening scenes, there is the darkened setting where the fairies bewitch Titania in a ``woods'' set using an illuminated cutout moon against a black panel. And there is the haunting dream sequence beneath a huge piece of silvery, undulating, semitransparent cloth, where lurking thoughts and half-admitted desires are enacted or hinted at in the spellbound atmosphere.
Lots of other inventive staging devices are at work: Players are arranged on stage in a kind of diagram of their relationship; sexual byplay and physical aggression point up the harsh realities Ciulei sees behind the most innocent of lines. Oberon and Titania sit at a long, formal dinner table -- the king and queen of fairies discussing otherworldly matters as if at a state dinner.
By the time the Puck of this ``Dream'' enters, it's no surprise to find her a cocky street kid dressed in a sleeveless black leather jacket and baggy black slacks (black has already come to symbolize -- sometimes -- the forces of insurrection). Lynn Chausow gives the famous lines a tough, irreverent, comically adroit delivery that seems exactly right, given the show she's in.
The chemistry among the actors playing the four lovers is strong and splendidly maintained throughout the play. Harriet Harris as Titania skillfully tackles what appears to be a fiendishly tricky role -- a hard-living fairy queen whose all-too-human emotions include some epic horse laughs.
Gary Reineke makes a strong and credible Duke, noble but human. And as his fussbudget Master of the Revels, Richard Oom makes his character a familiar bureaucrat afraid of upsetting his superior.
The show, in fact, owes a great deal to the relatively high quality of the company at the Guthrie, a true repertory theater whose rotating schedule of plays this season also includes ``Cyrano de Bergerac,'' ``Candida,'' ``Execution of Justice,'' and an adaptation of Dickens's novel ``Great Expectations.'' Shakespeare's ``Dream'' will be performed through Oct. 20.