The lunatic, the lover and the poet “are of imagination all compact” — so says Theseus, the Duke of Athens, at the beginning of Act 5 of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” What he means is that imagination is a powerful thing, and that what’s not really there can often be just as powerful as what is real.
The Bard’s fantastical comedy, Opera House Arts’ choice this year for its annual Shakespeare in Stonington production, opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 2, at Stonington Opera House. For seven nights, the line between dreams and reality will blur as the lunatics, lovers and poets of the play are sucked into fairyland, ruled by Oberon and Titania. Tricks are played, traps are set, love is destroyed and then restored, and all hell generally breaks loose — and all before the sun rises.
“The play starts and ends in reality, but the whole middle of it takes place in the dream world,” said director Julia Whitworth, co-founder of Shakespeare in Stonington. “That’s where all the problems and issues in the real world get blown out and magnified, inverted, distorted. Eventually it becomes difficult to tell what’s real and what’s a dream.”
In keeping with previous Shakespeare in Stonington productions, “Midsummer” is full of dance and music. The show begins with a ballet that re-enacts the battle between the Amazons and the Athenians, that precedes the action of the play — the battle of the sexes, literally. During the ballet, all the characters wear the famed ass-head that the character Bottom dons in Act 2.
That battle frames the entire show, as men and women clash, make love, compromise and play pranks on one another.
“The play opens with this really curious scene, in which Theseus tells Hippolyta, ‘I wooed thee with my sword / And won thy love doing thee injuries,’” said Whitworth. “I think that’s very prescient of the themes that run throughout the play. Forced marriage, forced domesticity.”
Going into its ninth year of summer productions, Shakespeare in Stonington has attracted a number of return actors. Jeffrey Frace, who plays both Theseus and Oberon this year, directed last year’s production of “Macbeth.” He and several other New York-based actors, who have returned to Stonington for multiple summers, started a theater troupe inspired by their experiences in Maine.
“Everyone would eat at this local restaurant called Connie’s,” said Judith Jerome, artistic director for Opera House Arts. “Back in New York, they started a troupe called Connie’s Avant-Garde Restaurant. It’s fantastic. It speaks to how open and welcoming the artistic community really is here.”
Versatility is a requirement for any actor in a Shakespeare in Stonington production. Most members of the cast are also musicians, all can dance, and many are also writers and teachers in their professional lives. An original score composed by Sarah Pickett is performed onstage by a four-man band, which includes percussionist Jason Guy, a New York-based native of Blue Hill who plays the role of Puck in the show. The music has a Balkan flair, though at the beginning of Act 3 a tango is performed by Melody Bates — doing double duty as Titania and Hippolyta — who dances with all the other cast members.
There are, all told, just 11 cast members, including the four fairies played by Deer Isle-Stonington school students Amy Friedell, Jadyn Ladeau, Philomena Mattes and Orly Vaughn. And in just three weeks, the show goes up. It’s a lot of work that pays off quickly.
“It’s an extremely physical production,” said Whitworth. “It’s all running and jumping and fighting and dancing. There’s constant movement. We keep our actors busy.”
Shakespeare in Stonington is one of the highlights of Opera House Arts’ annual summer season — and the work that is done each summer in Stonington is some of the most interesting and creatively rigorous seen in the entire state.
“It’s very, very good work that is done here,” said artist director Jerome. “It’s challenging and very progressive. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 2, at the Stonington Opera House. Further performances will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, July 3, and Sunday, July 5, as well as 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 9-10, 5 p.m. Saturday, July 11, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 12. Tickets are $20-$30; for more, visit www.operahousearts.org.
Highlights from the 10th annual Opera House Arts season schedule
July 22 — Live at 5 performance by Adele Myers Dancers
Contemporary dance from this NYC-based company.
July 24-25 — Deer Isle Jazz Festival
Two days of music, featuring the New Orleans-based Danza Quarter and the George Stevens Academy Jazz Combo.
Aug. 7-8 — Sneak Peek of Work-in-Progress, “Q2: Habitat”
Follow-up to 2007’s “Quarryography,” large-scale dance, music, visual arts installation at the Settlement Quarry, featuring work by Alison Chase, Mia Kanazawa and Nigel Chase.
Aug. 12 — Live at 5 performance from Amanda Crockett
Trapeze artist, acrobat, clown, dancer and actress.
Aug. 15-16 — OHA’s 10th Anniversary Revue: Looking Forward, Looking Back
Featuring Randy Judkins, Mike Miclon, Paul Sullivan and others.
Aug. 19 — Live at 5 preview performance of “Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man”
Preview performance of children’s ballet and opera based on the beloved Robert McCloskey book.
Aug. 22 — Mary Cleare Haran: Cabaret Singer in Concert
Interpreter of the Great American Songbook.
All performances take place at the Stonington Opera House; for a full schedule and ticket information, visit www.operahousearts.org.
During the Shakespeare in Stonington production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” arts journalist and longtime Bangor Daily News contributor Alicia Anstead is working in the Deer Isle-Stonington community as a kind of critic-in-residence.
“Shakespeare and the Journalist in the 21st Century: Arts Coverage, Conversation and Community,” as Anstead’s program is known, is a pilot project designed to integrate Shakespeare in Stonington even more deeply in our regional communities, while augmenting the role of professional journalism through community development.
Sponsored by the Maine Arts Commission, it puts Anstead in direct contact with both the artists working on the production and with the community at large, to bring them together into dialogue. Anstead has led several community readings of the play at both the Blue Hill Public Library and Stonington Public Library, talking about themes and ideas in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Additionally, Anstead is updating a blog about the production. Located at shakestonington.blogspot.com, the blog details the process of staging a show such as this — both the nuts and bolts of the production, and the ways in which cast, crew and audience alike figure out the poetry, psychology and philosophy of Shakespeare.