As a side note and perhaps to explain his decision to let his actors use their own voices in the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, director Jerry Ferraccio says that Elizabethan English is a lot like American English—Appalachian English, even.
Then, he recognizes that he’s missed his cue. Ferraccio, a sprightly man sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee and a sun hat, is standing in for Sheridan Johnson, who’s absent.
“Gotta go be Helena,” he says, then jumps up from a bench to take his place on the outdoor basketball courts at Acequia Madre Elementary. (The Bandshell at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, where the play takes place throughout summer, is occupied.) He kneels and, as Helena, takes Demetrius’ (Michael Pepp) hand.
“You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant…,” he says in a mock female voice. Cast and crew laugh.
The actors watch Ferraccio from the imagined wings, standing just far enough away to remain out of the action, but looking like some Shakespearean device in which the characters observe their own misfortunes unfold. A man in a blue T-shirt, sleeves rolled up, walks in circles on the playground track, then breaks to walk behind the stage.
Ferraccio returns from his scene and says that the man’s name is Rusty Flounders. He plays Theseus, Duke of Athens.
The duke’s wedding is the impetus for multiple, overlapping plots brought together by the fairy king Oberon and the mischievous sprite Puck. Oberon’s aim is to trick his wife, Titania, into giving him a young Indian changeling to use as one of his henchmen.
Acting on behalf of his master, Puck gives Titania a love potion to distract her from the issue with her husband. Meanwhile, he gives a laborer the head of a donkey, and when Titania wakes to see him, she falls in love.
Meanwhile, Puck also gives the potion to some young Athenians who happen to be in the woods, thereby twisting up all their love connections.
Ferraccio and I are watching a scene in which the laborers, who are producing a play for the wedding, gather to discuss their production of “the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe.”
They focus on details of continuity—how to bring a wall onto the stage, for instance—but then they fear the play will seem too real for the audience. “Write me a prologue,” Bottom says, “and let the prologue seem to say, ‘We will do no harm with our swords’” They are ridiculous—Shakespeare’s reminder to theater companies and theater-goers that the great aim of theater is to move and be moved, not to haggle over details.
The troupe begins rehearsing its lines. Bottom steps out of sight, and when he returns, he’s a donkey. The others run away in fear.
When the scene ends, the Midsummer cast and crew gather for notes on the playground picnic tables. The first thing Ferraccio says is that some of them have a tendency to create new accents for themselves. “Use your own voices,” he instructs.
The second thing he tells the actors is to avoid talking upstage of one another because Shakespeare’s words are essential. “The words tell the story,” he says.