What better time to enjoy the enchantment, romance and humor of fairies and rude mechanicals, young lovers and confused couples, than summer? Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a warm weather staple, is at it again, with tricksters and lovers, and happily-ever-afters where playful chaos gets put in its place.
Quotidian Theatre Company most typically delves into the 20th- and 21st-century realistic dramas, but company co-founder Stephanie Mumford is directing the local troupe’s first go at Shakespeare. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through Aug. 12 at the Randolph Road Theatre in Silver Spring.
This is not an ordinary “Midsummer” – if there is such a thing. Mumford found inspiration not in Elizabethan England, but in bonny Ireland. She calls it her “Irish twist” on the classic. And, why not? Irish folklore is filled with tales of fairies, changelings, forest creatures, monsters and such, she said.
So, this past fall, with company member Leah Mazade, Mumford tackled the script. “We sat at Leah’s dining room table, laptop to laptop with the Shakespeare text and a dictionary — and plenty of coffee,” she said. “We went line by line through the text.” The two came across some histories of English expatriates who became Irish land owners in the late 18th century. That’s how the fictionalized Montbrook family became the backbone of this brogue-accented “Midsummer.”
As adapter and director, Mumford found Ireland’s bucolic countryside an apt setting for the merriment of Shakespeare’s twisty plot. And the last time the theater co-founder directed an Irish-themed show, she signed up for Irish dance classes. That made incorporating traditional Irish dance and music along with poetry of Irishman William Butler Yeats a natural. Composer/musician Peter Brice accompanies the dance sections on his button accordion and hid bodhran, a double-sided Irish drum. Mazade plays the cello and Samantha Suplee joins in on the fiddle.
The dances — traditional ceilis, jigs and reels – were likely known and performed by the Galway community of the mid-18th century. Kate Bole, an Irish dancer and teacher with the Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance in Montgomery County, where Mumford studies, choreographed the simple ceilis for the cast. A ceili, Bole explained, “is our traditional Irish dance done in groups. It’s similar to square dancing and there’s a set of these dances that all instructors learn and teach to ensure that the movements are passed on correctly and are preserved.”
Bole was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the actors caught on to the ceili and jig steps, which are performed in soft slippers, not hard-soled shoes that make a “Riverdance”-like racket. Instead the dances emphasize a playful, lilting quality. The performers will dance a Fairy Reel, one of the traditional Irish set dances called a six-hand, explained Bole. “It’s actually one of the most fun traditional group dances we do. You might see it a wedding or celebration. In the play, [the dancers] will closely match what happens at a real wedding.” Although many ceilis use four couples akin to an American-style square dance, the Fairy Reel uses six, four women and two men, with a man in the center and two women on either side facing each other.
Beyond the reels and jigs, Bole created a mini-Irish dance stylized ballet to Brice’s original music for the Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child,” a fitting addition to the changeling switched-child plot.
“It’s just a beautiful, beautiful piece of music and really gave me a lot of meat to choreograph to,” said Bole, who dramatizes this little poetic ballet of traditional Irish steps with mime. “I haven’t done a lot of theater,” she added, “but I thought this sounded so interesting. Shakespeare is, of course, always so intimidating because it has such a history behind it. But with the costumes, the music and the actors, I’m really excited about how this is coming together.” Mumford, too, is looking forward to seeing the after-work rehearsals come to fruition.
“You know,” Mumford added, “they call it the perfect play.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be performed by Quotidian Theatre Company from July 25 to Aug. 12, Thursdays through Sundays, at Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Rd., Silver Spring. For tickets — $35, $15 for students, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3220228 or call 301-816-1023.