Blackfriars take “Midsummer Night” back to Shakespeare’s day

Authenticity was key as The Blackfriars Stage Company presented Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Wednesday, Oct. 11 at the Music Recital Hall on Redstone Campus. The lights shone brightly in the recital hall as audience members arrived early to enjoy music preformed by the cast itself, including a twangy, banjo-laden version of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” When show time rolled around, cast member Tyler Moss announced the rules and regulations of their particular style: The lights would remain on because in Shakespeare’s day there was no electricity so, Moss said, the plays occurred during the day. The 12 chairs on either side of the stage would remain for the play’s entirety and were open to audience members. Again, a remnant of Shakespearian plays, there was seating on three sides of the stage and those who were close enough became physically involved in certain aspects of the performance. Luckily, there were some daring audience members Wednesday night who provided legs for the characters to cry on and purses to rummage through. A Shakespeare classic, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” tells the story of a complicated and comical “love rectangle.” It’s a meta-theatrical piece in that there is a play within a play. The audience is literally watching another audience watching a play-a constant reminder of being a spectator. There was no elaborate set to guide the audience members’ imaginations-they were left to create the lush, green forests (where most of the play takes place) themselves. This seemed to be a welcome change for some, while others sat squirming in their well-lit seats, waiting for the intermission that never came. The Blackfriars Playhouse, part of the American Shakespeare Center of Staunton, Va., is the only “re-creation of William Shakespeare’s original indoor theater,” according to the American Shakespeare Center’s website. Upcoming plays preformed on tour by the Blackfriars include “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Julius Caesar.” “Shakespeare only wrote thirty-something plays that have survived,” explains Jim Warren, the Artistic Director for “Cyrano de Bergerac.” “Because the ASC produces over a dozen plays per year, we need to do plays by other playwrights or we’d run out of shows very quickly.” With the success of their authentic reproduction, be it Shakespearian or otherwise, it is a good thing that the Blackfriars Stage Company does not run out of material. Otherwise, the audience would be left with only its textbooks to transform them back to the 17th century.