After a five-year absence from the University of Oklahoma, guest director Joel Ferrell has returned as a man on a mission: to make Shakespeare hip, relevant and more appealing to a college audience, without compromising the integrity of the play.
While still telling the tale of lovers led astray by the mischievous intentions of magical creatures, OU's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is now set in modern-day New York.
Theseus and his bride-to-be, Hippolyta "? along with the young lovers Demetrius, Hermia, Helena and Lysander "? are all elite power players: politicians, business leaders and professionals. The company of would-be actors "? including the lovable ass, Nick Bottom "? are now working-class stiffs. Oberon, Titania Puck and the fairies are artists and club kids whose base of operations is a dance club called The Woods.
It may sound a little far-fetched, but in Shakespeare's time, the woods were a place of mystery and wonder where magic thrived and anything was possible. Few places in the modern world better personify that setting that the artsy, drug-fueled club scenes of cities like New York, London and Rio de Janeiro.
It's not just the setting that's been updated, but the text itself. Ferrell, in conjunction with his cast members and sound designer Chance MacNeill, worked to transform the words of Shakespeare into rap, hip-hop and R&B-styled song lyrics. It's a treacherous road they chose to navigate and admittedly, some of the words are lost in translation, but the adaptations overwhelmingly work.
The dynamic work of set designer Bob Lavallee and lighting designers Steven Draheim and Hope Schnick, merge to perfection, creating a space in The Woods that puts to shame the metro's dance clubs. Full of color and movement, the set includes multiple levels, flowing stairs and a moonlit New York skyline. It is so effective that audiences will wish that after the play, they could go party onstage with the cast.
All this flashy execution would be for naught if the cast didn't succeed in infusing their characters with contemporary relevance while also retaining their core essences. Jillian Robertson and Marlowe Holden shine strong as the slightly spoiled Hermia and Helena, hitting just the right combinations of romance, comedy and sympathy. Holden's performance is supported always by her mostly silent bodyguard, played by Isaiah Peel, and the adorable and unbelievably calm dog that he is forced to carry around.
Jordan Brodess plays Oberon as an unfaithful sleazebag and graduate of the pimp school of fashion who, while strong in his raps, ends up dropping in status a lot when Puck or Laura Stephenson's irrepressible diva Titania are onstage. Jonathan Hooks-Abadom and Paul Stuart as would-be suitors Lysander and Demetrius start out low-key, but once under the spell of Puck's love potions, ramp up their performances to hysterical levels.
Their comedic work is only outshone by Ryan Wood as Nick Bottom, who manages to be note-perfect over-the-top without ever becoming overbearing.
Ryan Edward Claxton's portrayal of Puck as a modern-day dance-club sex bomb is playful, charming, determined to seduce the audience "? just like the play itself. Do yourself a favor and let it.