“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve certainly seen it frequently both on stage and on film. Each production has its own unique vision of how to bring together the world of real life and fantasy as well as bridging the gap between the fifteenth century and the modern world.
The latest film, adapted and directed by Casey Wilder Mott, sets the play in current day Los Angeles (although rather than a “Hollywood” the hillside sign reads “Athens”). The language is still the iambic pentameter from the play, which often seems a bit disjointed when spoken, say, at a café in Echo Park. But that disjointedness is intentional, seeking to remind us that this is a story that takes place between worlds.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it involves three intersecting stories. The first is a four-way love story. Lysander (Hamish Linklater) and Hermia (Rachael Leigh Cook) are in love. However, Demetrius (Finn Wittrock) also seeks to marry Hermia, and has her father’s favor. When Lysander and Hermia decide to leave Athens so they can be together, Helena (Lily Rabe), who is in love with Demetrius, passes word to him, hoping to win his love. When Demetrius chases after them and Helena chases after Demetrius, they four end up in a forest at night. (Hold that thought.)
The second group is the woodland faeries (here, more beach bums). The first we meet is the mischievous Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck (Avan Jogia), who serves the faerie king Oberon (Saul Williams). Oberon’s wife Titania (Mia Doi Todd) is being contrary. So Oberon dispatches Puck to bring a magical flower that causes people to fall in love with the first person they see. (You see where this is going, don’t you?). Oberon plans on punishing Titania by having her fall in love with someone strange.
That brings us to the third group, a troupe of inept actors led by Quince (Charity Wakefield) making a film about a tragic story. The lead actor, Bottom (Fran Kranz), believes himself the greatest actor ever and should perform all the parts. Seeing the actors rehearsing in the forest, Puck transforms Bottom, giving him the head of an ass. (Although, in this version, we aren’t talking about a donkey.)
Puck ends up putting the drops in both Demetrius and Lysander’s eyes, making them both fall in love with Helena. Now no one wants Hermia. Helena spurns them all, thinking they are making fun of her. Meanwhile, Titania spends an amorous night with Bottom. In time all is set right and everyone ends up with who they should be with.
This is a decent adaptation and abridgment of the play. (Bear in mind that purists will rarely be happy with adapting the Bard.) Early on, there are several little quotes from other Shakespearean plays around the edges, to provide Easter eggs for Shakespeare fans. As the play moves on, it stays more with the original story. The juxtaposition of modern L.A. for ancient Athens works most of the time, but there are some anachronisms that crop up. For example, Hermia’s father’s claim that she is his property to dispose of as he likes—hardly fitting for a #MeToo world. Overall, for those familiar with the play it’s a nice way to revisit it. For those who haven’t seen it before, it can serve as an introduction.
Photos courtesy of Greg Smith