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PlayMakers Will Present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Into the Woods” in Rotating Repertory

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Between Nov. 1st and Dec. 7th, PlayMakers Repertory Company will present A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Into the Woods in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art. PlayMakers Rep first-time guest director Shana Cooper will direct English playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s marvelous, moonstruck comedy, written around 1595-96; and PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj will direct the hit 1987 Broadway and 1990 West End musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine

According to Wikipedia, Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616) primarily found the inspiration for A Midsummer Night’s Dream from an 8 A.D. Roman narrative poem and a 14th century Middle English poem — Metamorphoses of Ovid (43 B.C.-c. 17-18 A.D.) and “The Knight’s Tale” of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400). Also according to Wikipedia, Stephen Sondhem and James Lapine were inspired by The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1903-90) to string together a fractured-fairy-tale version of the folk tales collected by the German Brothers Grimm: Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859).

Into the Woods is being presented in rotating repertory with A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” says Joseph Haj, “and I think there is much to be said about these plays being placed in conversation with each other. Both plays take the forest as their central metaphor; and 400 years apart, Shakespeare and Sondheim are exploring the archetypal ‘woods’ as the place where we have to get lost in order to find ourselves.”

PRC guest director Shana Cooper says, “I just directed a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at California Shakespeare Theater in Berkeley, CA. I also explored the text in a workshop with my company New Theater House in Brooklyn, NY, several years ago.

Dream was the first play I saw, at age 8, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Cooper recalls. “That experience led to my love of theater, and so it was the first play I chose to direct when I was a senior in high school.”

Shana Cooper says, “Dream is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, because with it Shakespeare began his deep exploration of the metaphysical: the human world of midsummer is the surface of an unseen world that affects and sometimes overrules the actions of people. For me, this unseen world — the world of the fairies and the dream — seems like the unconscious. I love that the imagination itself is the very foundation of the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“One of the things I’m excited to explore in our production is the vacillation in the play between dream and nightmare,” says Cooper. “In general, the word ‘dream’ usually suggests something positive, full of beauty and fun and magic and fantasy. I don’t know about you, but my dreams are anything but that. They are violent, dangerous, mysterious, stressful, and harrowing. Shakespeare has written a dream that contains all of the above, ranging the full extreme journey from fantasy to madness. I am excited to create a production of Dream that contains the full range of emotional extremes that are often reflected in our dream.”

Cooper employs cross-gender casting to create a fresh, new take on some of the most familiar characters of this knee-slapping Shakespearean comedy. When the curtain rises on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cooper says, “[It is] the eve of Duke Theseus of Athens’ (Zachary Fine) wedding to the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta (Lisa Birnbaum), whom he has won in battle[.] Egia (Kathryn Hunter-Williams) arrives with her daughter, Hermia (Arielle Yoder), and two young men, Lysander (Schuyler Scott Mastain) and Demetrius (William Hughes).

“Egia has arranged for Hermia to marry Demetrius, but Hermia and Lysander have fallen in love,” says Cooper. “Theseus tells Hermia she must either marry Demetrius or choose between life in a convent and death. Faced with this harsh parental and governmental authority, Hermia and Lysander plot to run away to the forest, where they can marry outside the strictures of Athenian society.

“[After t]hey tell Hermia’s best friend Helena (Alison Altman) of their plan[, Helena –] desperately in love with Demetrius [–] attempts to gain his favor by telling him of their escape. All four young lovers enter the woods, [which is] also inhabited by a group of local artisans and amateur actors preparing a play for the Duke’s wedding celebrations, and Oberon (Zachary Fine) and Titania (Lisa Birnbaum), the King and Queen of the Fairies, who are in the midst of a major domestic quarrel that is wreaking havoc on the world around them. The ensuing collision of these groups of characters brings us love lost, love forced, and love found all within the mysterious dream world of the woods,” Cooper says.

She adds, “Eventually, the lovers awake from their madness; and all is resolved when the artisans [– Kathryn Hunter-Williams as the carpenter Peter Quince, Julie Fishell as the weaver Nick Bottom, Benjamin Curns as the bellows mender Francis Flute, Sehee Lee as the tailor Robin Starveling, Zachary Fine as the tinker Tom Snout, and Ray Dooley as Snug the joiner –] perform their play [‘the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe’] for the triple wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius.”

PlayMakers Rep mainstay Ray Dooley also plays Puck; and the rest of the cast for A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes: Myles Bullock, Katie Chelena, Abigail Coryell, and Gregory DeCandia as Fairies.

Director Shana Cooper notes, “The majority of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place at night and within the strange, glorious, and terrifying landscape of a dream. A big challenge with this play is to really differentiate between dream and reality. What does a dream look like, feel like? Who is the dreamer, and how does that change throughout the journey according to Shakespeare’s text?

“This may be a communal dream,” says Cooper, “but how can we tell a specific visual story about the individuals and their specific longings and fears? How can the space evolve and transform in order to truly reflect the swift and epic vision of our imaginations, and the visceral ways in which those deep desires of our unconscious come to life in our dreams?”

In addition to director Shana Cooper, the PlayMakers Repertory Company for A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes producing artistic director Joseph Haj, production manager Michael Rolleri, choreographer Erika Chong Shuch, composer Paul James Pendergrast, scenic designer Marion Williams, lighting designer Josh Epstein, costume designer Kate O’Neill, associate costume designer Jade Bettin, sound designer/engineer Robert Dagit, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Zachary Fine, dramaturg Adam Versényi, fight captain Ben Curns, stage manager Sarah Smiley, and assistant stage manager Elizabeth C. Ray

“The most important opposition in the design of the space is the civilized world of Athens, a society of strict order and laws versus the unruly, primal world of the woods or the dream,” says director Shana cooper. “Athens is a very rectilinear world, with a square of white carpet and a square of white wall that cover most of the space.

“We talked a lot about keeping the space elemental, stripping it down to its bare essentials. The clean, sparseness of the white squares will be pulled down and rolled away as it starts to rain in the middle of this midsummer night and transition us into the woods and into the dream, where we land in a more organic space with trees and mud puddles,” says Cooper. “However it is no ordinary woods, the trees are wrapped in plastic as if the frost has been particularly bad, even in summertime; and nature is out of sorts. Once we land in the woods and the dream, there are other elements that will invade the natural world, according to what is called upon by the imagination of the dreamer; but I’ll save those surprises for when you see the show.”

Cooper adds, “For clothes, we have a lot of Mediterranean influence. The costume designer used a bunch of research from Italy, but also Greece and Turkey, where there is often traditional Western dress, but with Eastern elements. So, we’re in a simple, elemental world that is familiar to us in its Western dress, but has elements that make it more universal and of a world other than our own.

“We pulled from the mid 20th century in terms of silhouettes, a time where there are very clear rules about what is male and what is female which seems important in the world of the nobles,” Cooper explains. “Think of the rules for what one had to wear in a Roman Catholic church in the middle of the 20th century. Women had to cover their heads, men’s buttons were always done. No shoulders, no knees, always makeup and polished hair, etc. Anything less is not just disgraceful, it is breaking laws that have real consequences and deep societal implications.

“For the fairies, the physical elements of the woods, most notably dirt, but also erosion from all of the elements has taken over their clothes and bodies. Imagine what would happen to you if you went into the woods and never came out. Your clothes would become so dirty they would eventually rot, adhere to your skin and, in fact, become like a second skin,” says Shana Cooper.

“The lighting for this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is really going to be about finding a balance between the many diametrically opposed forces in the text,” Cooper says. “The story moves us from the neat and organized world of Athens to the messy and strange land of the fairies and back again and the design needs to follow suit. The lighting needs to help the audience experience the opposition of those locations as well as find a way to collide those worlds as the lives of the fairies and humans intermingle during the journey of the play.

“In the lighting, there will be no sense of literal palace or forest. Instead, there will be a world of order with stark and straight white lines and a world of confusion with layers of texture and shadow and pops of color. Our hope is that as we move through the play, we can keep the audience as off-balance as the lovers feel, so that as we reach the end it is as though everyone has emerged from the dream together,” says Shana Cooper.

She adds, “A key component of our storytelling in this production will be the language of movement. Through a thrilling collaboration with choreographer Erika Chong Shuch, we are creating a vocabulary movement and dance can help transport us into the world of the dream and elevate the sense of being in an alternative state of consciousness where anything can happen. Our hope is that differentiating between how people’s bodies behave in the civilized world of Athens versus once we travel into the woods and fall into the dream will be a powerful tool for creating two very different worlds simply through the essential element of the actors’ bodies.”

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PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director Joseph Haj, who is directing Into the Woods, says, “I’ve known about Into the Woods for years, but saw it first a couple of years ago as a recorded version of the 1988 production. This summer, I saw a beautiful production of it on the outdoor stage of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.”

He adds, “I love that, at bottom, it is a serious exploration of the power and seduction of narrative. The stories we’ve been handed down, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell one another. I love the enormous imaginative landscape of the piece and that was what was most intriguing to me about directing it.”

Into the Woods combines the classic fairy tales of Cinderella [with Caroline Strange as Cinderella and Gregory DeCandia as Cinderella’s Prince], Rapunzel [with Carey Cox as Rapunzel and Max Bitar as Rapunzel’s Prince], Jack and the Beanstalk [with Jorge Donoso as Jack, Julia Gibson as Jack’s Mother, and Kathryn Hunter-Williams as the Giant], and Little Red Ridinghood [with Jessica Sorgi as Little Red Ridinghood and Gregory DeCandia as the Wolf] with the story of a Baker [Jeffrey Meanza] and his Wife [Garrett Long], who desperately want a child. Unfortunately, the couple have been cursed with childlessness by a Witch [Lisa Brescia] and must perform various missions involving the characters in the other fairy tales to break the spell. They must bring the Witch a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

“After a series of failed attempts, the Baker and his Wife are finally able to perform the tasks necessary to break the spell and Act One ends on a joyous note of ‘Happily Ever After.’ However, in Act Two, … the characters learn about the pitfalls of greed and gluttony … and what comes after ‘Happily Ever After.’ In the end, they learn about the need for community and family when they must unite to fight against the wife of the giant Jack killed, when she decides to come back for revenge,” Joseph Haj explains.

The rest of the Into the Woods cast includes (in alphabetical order): David Adamson as Cinderella’s Father, Daniel Bailin as a Steward/Puppeteer, Katy Castaldi as Lucinda, Katie Chelena as Snow White/Granny/Milky White, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Narrator/Mysterious Man, Abigail Coryell as Florinda/Cinderella’s Mother, Benjamin Curns as a Steward/Puppeteer, Mary Stewart Evans as Sleeping Beauty/Milky White, Lenore Field as Cinderella’s Stepmother.

In addition to director Joseph Haj, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Into the Woods includes: production manager Michael Rolleri, choreographer Casey Sams, music supervisor Mark Hartman, music director/conductor Jay Wright, scenic designer Marion Williams, lighting designer Josh Epstein, costume designer Bill Brewer, sound designer/engineer Robert Dagit, puppet designer Donovan Zimmerman, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coordinator Zachary Fine, , dramaturg Gregory Kable, stage manager Charles K. Bayang, and assistant stage manager Elizabeth C. Ray.

Besides music director/conductor Jay Wright (piano), the Into the Woods orchestra includes Stephen Burke (percussion), music coordinator Wayne Leechford (reeds), Ariana Macmillan (cello), John Simonetti (bass), and music assistant Alex Thompson (keyboard).

“The play was very much created for a proscenium house. There are major challenges, and much fun, in re-envisioning it for a 40-foot thrust stage,” says Joseph Haj.

He adds, “The set is a kind of enormous library with trees growing in it…. The costumes take their silhouette from the 1950s (which also happens to be the fairy tale silhouette).”

Into the Woods director Joseph Haj claims, “The play becomes darker in theme as the evening progresses, and the light will move from the storybook beginning of the first act to the more complicated second act. Much will depend on lights to help us understand that journey.”

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 31st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Robert McNeely: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/10/playmakers-opens-into-the-woods-to-rotate-wtih-midsummer and Oct. 12th preview by Drew Goins: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/10/playmakers-preps-for-popular-musical-into-the-woods; and Oct. 29th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/where-well-be-oct-29-nov-4/Content?oid=4278233.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 5, and 6 Previews; and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 Opening-Day Performance; 2 p.m. Nov. 9; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, 14, 18, 19, and 22; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, 3, and 6; and 2 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec 7; and INTO THE WOODS at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2, 4, and 7 Previews; 2 p.m. Nov. 8 Opening-Day Performance; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 and 12; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 and 21; 2 p.m. Nov. 22; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOWS:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream http://playmakersrep.org/amidsummernightsdream.

Into the Woods http://playmakersrep.org/intothewoods.

PRESENTER:

http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/10/07/playmakers-presents-sondheim-shakespeare-repertory-starting-nov-1/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performance of Into the Woods on Nov. 11th and of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Nov. 18th.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the Nov. 12th and 30th performances of Into the Woods and the Nov. 19th and 23rd performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance of Into the Woods on Nov. 22nd and of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Nov. 23rd (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).

NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions of Into the Woods on Dec. 6th and of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Dec. 7th.

OTHER LINKS:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595-96 comedy): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Midsummer_Night’s_Dream (Wikipedia).

Script: http://web.archive.org/web/20080504220930/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMNDF.html (1623 First Folio Edition, courtesy the University of Virginia in Charlottesville) and http://web.archive.org/web/20080821025001/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMids.html (1866 Globe Edition, also courtesy UVa).

Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Midsummer/nights.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).

Shana Cooper (PlayMakers Rep first-time guest director): http://www.shanacooper.com/ (official website) and http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=6b82b654-7bfa-4cca-80ba-1e1fd5bcc3ae (PlayMakers Rep bio).

Into the Woods (1987 Broadway and 1990 West End musical): http://www.sondheimguide.com/woods.html (Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://www.jameslapine.com/into-the-woods (James Lapine web page), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=4753 (Internet Broadway Database), and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Woods (Wikipedia).

Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/IntoWoods/intothewoods.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Stephen Sondheim (New York City-born composer and lyricist, born 1930): http://sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), http://www.sondheimguide.com/ (Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12430 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).

James Lapine (Mansfield, OH-born playwright and director, born 1949): http://www.jameslapine.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6607 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lapine (Wikipedia).

Joseph Haj (PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director): http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=15b43fe8-a162-4c03-9218-ac7ebe7fd3a4 (PlayMakers Rep bio) and https://www.facebook.com/joseph.haj.3 (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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