Dream team

Bringing the Bard to Boston Common
By IRIS FANGER  |  July 17, 2007

Johnny Lee Davenport
The fairies are creeping on their bellies along the carpet of the Wang Theatre rehearsal-hall floor as director Steven Maler and choreographer Anna Myer watch. Under their instruction, the band of sprites break from a circle into more compelling patterns. Antonio Edwards-Suarez’s Puck howls like a wolf to rally his minions behind him. One week before Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings the Bard’s fairyland to a stage near the Parkman Bandstand for the annual offering of free Shakespeare on Boston Common, the final scene is beginning to jell.

Founded by Maler 11 years ago and eventually taken under the wing of the Wang Performing Arts Center (now the Citi Performing Arts Center), Commonwealth Shakespeare Company presented the Bard’s Dream as its first production, on Copley Square, to an unplanned soundscore of cars whizzing by and airplanes overhead. “I’ve never directed the same play twice,” says Maler. “It’s like I’ve been in this room before.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Commonwealth Shakespeare Company | Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common | July 24-29; July 21, 22 open rehearsals | Free | 617.532.1212 orwww.freeshakespeare.org
The director’s idea is that the play’s two worlds — that of the Athenian court and the surrounding woods — “collide, intersect, cross-pollinate.” So he’s cast New York–based actress Mimi Bilinski as both Amazon queen Hippolyta and fairy queen Titania and distinguished Shakespeare & Company vet Johnny Lee Davenport as the Athenian duke and the fairy king. Davenport is a veteran of 28 previous Shakespeare productions; he most recently appeared in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, and he’s played Oberon three times already. Yet it’s not the same, he says. “Everything changes. There’s so much about the immediacy of the production that it’s all about the new relationships. Oberon is hearing, seeing, feeling: the senses. Theseus is the opposite: about intellect. This is the first time Dream is how I imagine it — putting it into the forest of balloons.”

The major changes for Shakespeare on the Common this year are its move from the Parade Ground back to Parkman Bandstand, because of a reconstruction project, and a sharp reduction in the number of performances. Josiah Spaulding, president and CEO of Citi Performing Arts Center, says, “It’s part of our new strategic vision to make sure the core programs of the Wang Center are fully funded each year to make the programs sustainable.”

Translation: the sponsors have taken a hit of $1.2 million over the past few years, and some belt tightening is necessary. Last season’s elaborate North End setting for Twelfth Night ran costs to more than $900,000. This year, that balloon forest, which is designed by Beowulf Boritt and will be complemented by the shrubbery on the Common, will help keep the budget down to $500,000. Says Maler, “Rather than stage architecture, we decided to focus on the architecture of bodies in space.”

Related: Balloon moon, Let’s get physical, Twin peaks, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Performing Arts, William Shakespeare,  More more >
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