Midspring Shakespeare: MAT staging bard’s classic comedy

Midspring Shakespeare: MAT staging bard’s classic comedy

Jay Pyette

April 16, 2010, by Joe Nickell, Missoulian

Grant Olson has a really nice ass. And his Bottom is just plain hilarious.

     Those are just a couple of elements that Olson said should make next week’s opening of William Shakespeare’s timeless comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” at the Crystal Theatre, worthy of a mid-spring night’s outing for local theater fans.

Bottom, you may know, is one in a troupe of craftsmen who show up in Shakespeare’s layered comedy, rehearsing a play based on the Roman myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. In the course of the action, Bottom is transformed into a half-human, half-ass grotesque by a mischievous fairy named Puck.

That’s ultimately just one tiny twist in a knotted tale of mistaken identities, misguided love and mixed-up social order. It’s a play where many of the main characters are easily interchangeable – and interchange they do, with help from Puck’s magic.

Bottom’s ass at least gives audiences something firm to grab onto.

So to speak.

“There’s so much going on in this script, it’s really dizzying and it lends itself to all sorts of interpretation,” said Olson, who directs the production by Montana Actors’ Theatre. “It’s amazing what Shakespeare was able to squeeze into a two-hour play.”

Neither scholars nor audiences would argue with that point. Shakespeare’s most physical and fantastical comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been a staple of stages around the world for more than 400 years. It’s been transformed into opera and ballet, presented as spectacle and circus.

Olson said his company’s aim in this production is to simply go back to the script. That means, among other things, that the play, which is set in ancient Greece, will be performed in Greek costumes.

“I’ve actually never once seen it done with Greek costumes,” said Olson. “So it was fun to do exactly what the script prescribed. That’s what we’re tying to do in general, is what the script tells us to do. So often with Shakespeare, the concept comes first and then you try to make it work. We’ve started with the text.”

Shakespeare’s comedy marks the penultimate production in MAT’s 2009-2010 season, which has generally been focused on modern dramas and dark comedies. But Olson said he views MAT’s mission as including a much broader range of theatrical fare.

“One of our company’s philosophies is to not pigeonhole ourselves to doing just avant garde or American classic or family shows; we like to do everything,” said Olson, noting that one of the company’s first Missoula shows was a production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

“Actors love acting in Shakespeare and that’s one of the reasons to do it, since we’re an actors’ theatre company. We actually plan to do Shakespeare every year. I don’t think Shakespeare can be done enough if it’s done well. There’s a reason why his works have never fallen out of vogue: They’re so damn good.”

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