Okay so last night I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream as performed by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. And let me clarify, because they are currently running two different takes on the play: the one I saw was NOT the "chamber play" version, which I hear is the sort of thing Darren Nichols would direct.
Anyways! I'd looked up some reviews before going and they were pretty mixed in opinion. And oh hey looks like I too am mixed in opinion just in my own self! Overall it was a very charming and funny and enjoyable performance, though there were some things I didn't like about it and there were some things I don't like about the play itself.
Let me expand.
First of all: I loved the concept, that this is a backyard production of A Midsummer Night's Dream put on by the friends of these two dudes who just got married, in celebration of their wedding. It meant that throughout the show there were bits and pieces of fourth-wall-breaking in the most charming ways. And you know how much I am into a) people being friends and b) fourth-wall breaking!
One of the other things I loved was the cross-casting: the most obvious examples of which were Lysander played by a woman, and Titania played by a man. What was interesting here was what they chose to do with the pronouns - Lysander's pronouns got changed to she/her, and she was obviously intended to be read as a cis woman. Titania, though. Titania's pronouns were not changed. And she was dressed in traditionally feminine clothing. But the actor playing her did not modulate his voice to sound more feminine, and he is a tall and solidly-built guy who does not come across as androgynous, and basically it was great genderqueering. (here's a picture of Titania and Oberon
) BUT. The entire audience obviously thought that a dude playing Titania was HI-LAR-I-OUS. Urgghhhhhhhhhhhh.
But going back to Lysander! Lysander being a woman meant that Lysander/Hermia were suddenly THE MOST ADORABLE QUEER COUPLE IN EXISTENCE, at least for the first act before everything goes horribly awry. (in the second act when Lysander's been spelled to love Helena, Lysander's behaviour gets rather unacceptable, to the point of grabbing Helena's boobs without consent. I stopped liking Lysander so much at that point. Dammit.)
Another inclusivity thing: Hermia's dad is deaf and speaks in ASL and it's great - I liked how it was handled, though I'd also be curious what a deaf person would think of how it was done. And also it's frustrating that the director only made that decision after casting was completed so they didn't cast a deaf actor in the role.
Okay now it's time for me to start arguing with the play itself. Above all: WOW THIS IS A PLAY FULL OF TERRIBLE LACK OF CONSENT THAT IS NOT TREATED PROBLEMATICALLY :( Like - it is a HAPPY ENDING that Demetrius has been love-potioned into loving someone and proceeds to marry her? And it is a HAPPY ENDING that Oberon played a nasty trick on Titania in order to get his way on something? NOOOOOOOOO.
Like, I don't even like Demetrius? His self-assurance that of course he deserves to have Hermia even though she doesn't want him is terrible. But that doesn't mean he deserves what the fairies do to him.
And if I ignore what he does, I really do like Oberon, at least this Oberon! He's really charming. Butttttt his behaviour towards Titania (and also his high-handed behaviour with the love-flower towards the humans) is completely unacceptable and makes me not like him at all. I WANT to be able to like him, because he's great and Titania's great and they're great together, but no. Maaaaaaybe if I headcanon things such that Titania and Oberon have a longstanding practice of enjoying playing tricks on each other and neither of them finds the sort of thing Oberon did to be outside of their normal standards of behaviour to each other, then maybe I can be okay with it. But as it is? No.
Continuing with things I don't like about the play, the entire subplot of the Mechanicals (Bottom et al). As far as I can tell, the point of their subplot is that it is UTTERLY HILARIOUS for uneducated tradespeople to attempt something like acting because they are so completely without skill at anything requiring thought and without any ability to tell that they're bad at it. Basically it's "haha they're so stupid and oblivious isn't it funny." Um. No. I am not into laughing at people for those kinds of reasons. It doesn't help that in this production one of them (Snug the joiner) has a lisp and we're encouraged to laugh at him because of that as well.
Moving on to other things about this production in particular.
I wanted to like Helena, because for a while I thought the clear answer to the love quadrangle was Helena/Hermia/Lysander with Demetrius off being sad by himself in a corner, but the actor did not sell me on the character of Helena at all.
I don't know enough about costuming to be able to speak much in specifics, but I thought it was generally well done.
The dance party on stage at the end, where the fourth wall gets blurred further and the two married dudes who this production was being done for end up on stage dancing about too - I really liked it. It was fun and charming.
Okay fine yes all the child fairies were adorable.
There was a water feature on stage with actual water on it - which I could easily see was real because I was on the balcony so I could look down into it. And I had two immediate thoughts: a) wondering whether staging would ever involve characters stepping/jumping over it instead of constantly going around it, and b) wondering whether anyone ever accidentally ended up in it. People did occasionally step over the corner of the water feature, but only once did someone step over it somewhere near the middle, and there was no jumping over it. And also IT TURNS OUT that there are lots of scripted instances of characters ending up in the water feature BUT ALSO the night I saw it Oberon accidentally fell in when he wasn't supposed to :P
In conclusion: I had a lot of fun watching this performance, but the play itself is rather problematic and that got in the way of enjoyment in a number of places. And my endgame ships are Hermia/getting the hell away from these assholes, and Titania/getting the hell away from these assholes. I could probably be convinced of Hermia/Titania, actually.