William Shakespeare's tragicomedies are striking resonant chords with local dramatists in this pre-CXC season. The Trinidad Theatre Workshop's (TTW) production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was no exception during its run at the TTW base in Belmont.
The production followed on the heels of Deborah Jean-Baptiste-Samuel's recent adaptation of Othello and the University of Trinidad and Tobago's (UTT) production of As You Like It–the former of arguable comedic but undoubted value as dark tragedy. Young thespians at St Joseph's Convent, St Joseph, also had an entertaining go at A Midsummer Night's Dream two weeks before.
The experts may choose to debate the technical designations, but TTW's Timmia Hearn Feldman's expert interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream reminds us, through the words of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, of the "very tragical mirth" of misguided infatuation and betrayal, the narrative of which is wound through the play's three carefully and elaborately-plaited plots.
Much would not have been lost on a knowledgeable TTW audience, however dense and sometimes inaccessible the poetic dialogue. But Hearn Feldman's use of local Carnival characters to represent the spirits of Elizabethan woods attempts to extract from the conflicts of the netherworld greater meaning in the context of a T&T of years past and present. It works.
Musician Nickolai Salcedo is particularly convincing as Theseus and then the conniving Oberon, king of the fairies, who gets his jester, Puck (Kearn Samuel), to administer the nectar of a magic flower to the eyes of Oberon's cantankerous wife, Titania (Afi Ford-Hopson), who then falls in love with the lowly Nick Bottom, also played by Samuel, who wears the head of a donkey.
The magic flower is also unwittingly used to temporarily derail a developing romance between Hermia (Tishanna Williams) and Lysander (Arnold Goindhan) when Oberon instructs Puck to use the magic charm on Demetrius (Soler Phillips) who has been spurning the advances of Helena (Sindy Nurse). The flower is erroneously passed over the eyes of Lysander who now falls in love with Helena. The ensuing confusion flows like a Raymond Choo Kong farce on steroids. Except, this is Shakespeare and this is TTW.
The criss-crossing of interrelated stories moves smoothly along but must have been a director's nightmare in the face of a small Belmont facility, whose dramatic silence is sometimes broken by passing vehicles with 12-inch woofers.Hearn Feldman believes the play's interlocking stories "are deeply relatable to us in contemporary T&T". But, to her credit, the connections are managed with subtlety and are not overly contrived in the action of the play, which flows virtually flawlessly for close to two hours.
Much of this results from the work of a fine cast, which includes the experienced Goindhan, who moves seamlessly from roles as Lysander, Cobweb and one Peter Quince, who leads a rag-tag band of labourers/actors preparing for a performance at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.There's also Samuel, who plays four characters–Puck, Egeus (Hermia's father), Bottom, and Philostrate (chief organiser of festivals). He is seen by the audience before, since he makes himself available for a somewhat amusing pre-show stare-down at the TTW front door.The talented Tishanna Williams is assigned theroles of Hermia, Peasblossom and an inept Francis Flute, who gets his lines scandalously wrong when it's finally time to perform at the wedding ceremony. Williams' versatility as an actress is taken to the limit through Hermia's elaborate lines as a lovesick young woman to the fairy world of Peasblossom to the slapstick terrain of Francis Flute who, in turn, plays the lovesick Thisbe in a funnily-bungled performance before Theseus and his bride.
The multi-talented Williams is an amazing young talent with a great role to play in the future development of T&T theatre. She is also an accomplished vocalist with experience in directing as well.Then there is actress/model Sindy Nurse, with solid performances as Helena, Moth and Snug. As Helena, she plays second fiddle to the more favoured Hermia as far as Lysander's attention goes, but her lines are among the more poignant in the earlier parts of the play: "Happy is Hermia/wheresoe'er she lies;/For she hath blessed and attractive eyes./How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears:/If so, my eyes are oftener wash'd than hers./No, no, I am as ugly as a bear;/For beasts that meet me run away for fear..."Afi Ford-Hopson plays Hippolyta and Titania with enthusiasm and creativity. Soler Phillips generates some of the heartiest laughs from the audience with his portrayal of the inept Tom Snout, one of the labourers/dramatists performing at the wedding ceremony.
This is quality theatre under less than satisfactory conditions, though. On another occasion, the case will be made for a better deal for one of the country's most durable, premier theatre companies with a history going back to the heady days of 1959 and a dream that Nobel laureate Derek Walcott shared with legendary personalities such as the late Beryl Mc Burnie and Errol Jones, Fred Hope and Eunice Alleyne.