The goofy scene in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when the Rude Mechanicals perform “Pyramus and Thisbe” offers lots of opportunities for actors to ham it up. But director Bryn Boice, who is helming the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Stage2 production, says there’s a fine line.
“It’s very funny, and we are very aware that most of our audiences are seeing Shakespeare for the first time, so we want to make it accessible,” says Boice of the production running at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester for school groups, with public performances May 7 and May 14. “But the actors can’t laugh at themselves.”
To help create the mood of one of Shakespeare’s most delightful romps, Boice has set the look of the royals in the Court of Athens in the mall culture of the ‘80s (complete with shoulder pads and “Flashdance” shirts), while the fairy world is dressed in the counterculture ‘60s (with multicolored caftans). She also blends the 1990 hit “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” with Dusty Springfield songs and a few guitar solos for Puck.
“It’s the uptight royals versus the chill-out fairies,” she says. “We always see ourselves in these characters through the feelings they evoke. Once the archetypes are clear, it’s easy to enjoy the adventure they take.”
During a recent rehearsal, the cast is having a hard time keeping a straight face as Pyramus (Dylan Wack) stabs himself with a butter knife as part of an elaborate death scene. Boice runs the scene a few times, offering suggestions and encouragement.
The CSC2 ensemble is made up of early-career professionals who participate in four months of intensive text analysis, rehearsal and performance time, as well as teaching and mentoring.
“We are so excited to be back in front of students after a two-year hiatus,” says Boice. “We are very careful about COVID health and safety precautions, and only removed our masks during rehearsal for the final days before we perform. The surprising advantage of wearing masks is that it forced the actors to work with their bodies, since they couldn’t rely on facial expressions.”
The members of CSC2 represent a wide range of experience. Jaime Hernandez, a cofounder of Teatro Chelsea who has performed with Apollinaire Theater Company, among others, says he was excited about the opportunity to challenge himself as an actor.
“I wasn’t a very good Shakespearean actor because I didn’t really like Shakespeare,” says Hernandez, who plays Lysander. “But to be in a room with other actors, where we are encouraged to try things, learn, and help each other has been amazing and really rewarding.”
Regine Vital, who plays Quince and Egeus, is an actor and educator with a day job as manager of curriculum and instruction at the Huntington Theatre Company.
“My academic training is in early modern drama and Shakespeare,” Vital says, “and I love the joy and excitement in the room with students when a moment in a play clicks for the first time. But the opportunity to perform, rather than talk about it, has opened new possibilities for me. I’m thought of as reserved and serious, but here I am doing comedy!”
Boice says the goal of the CSC2 production is to make those connections, between the young professionals and performing, between students and the storytelling. The company is going one step further, calling the 2 p.m. performance on May 7 an “Access-Palooza” that will offer open captioning, ASL interpretation, audio description, and some sensory-friendly accommodations.
“The themes in the play are timeless,” says Boice. “It’s about tolerance and jealousy and love and respect. But it’s also a dreamy adventure in the forest.”
Tina Packer back for her 45th season
Founding artistic director Tina Packer returns to Shakespeare & Company for her 45th season, co-directing a production of “The Approach,” in the Elayne Bernstein Theatre May 6-29 (www.shakespeare.org/shows/2022/the-approach), the earliest the company has begun its “summer” season.
The three-character Irish drama centers on two sisters and a friend who meet in different combinations to chat about friends and memories from school days. At first glance, the play appears a bit static, but Packer laughs at that suggestion.
“The dramatic tension lies in how difficult it is to say what you really mean,” she says. “There’s so much lying going on. It all builds up to explosive revelations.”
Packer co-directs “The Approach” with Mark Farrell, who directed virtual productions of “Martha Mitchell Calling” and “Breath of Life” at the theater company (a livestream of “The Approach” will be available May 14 in addition to in-person performances).
“Working with Tina has been a master class of digging into the layers of these characters and the play,” Farrell says. “It’s also so revealing to realize how closely humor and pain are to each other.”
‘Yellow Bird’ in Harvard Square
The creative Liars & Believers theater company hosts one more performance of its delightful, family-friendly “Yellow Bird Flight,” as part of Harvard Square’s Mayfair, May 15 at 1 p.m., before it prepares to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Aug. 5-29.
In “Yellow Bird Flight,” a trio of maintenance workers go on an imaginative adventure in search of a yellow bird. Using only the materials of their maintenance closet (broom, mop, bucket, gloves, and a few other bits and bobs), and speaking a hilariously consistent gibberish where “glurg” means water and “machu picchu” means thank you, the three clowns take the audience on an enchanting trip up mountains and across the ocean, as they face pirates and monsters in pursuit of the yellow bird. The Mayfair performance is free and fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as non-English speakers.
Sal Baglio’s one-man show
Lowell-based Image Theater is partnering with UNITAS Civic Centre, a new performing arts and community space in downtown Lowell, to bring live performances to a 130-seat black box. Actor, filmmaker, and playwright Jerry Bisantz and his Image Theater partner, Ann Garvin, have been producing new works by New England playwrights since 2006. On May 7, Image Theater presents “Sal Baglio: One Man Sideshow,” a mix of stories and songs from the one-time frontman of the Boston band The Stompers. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Go to www.imagetheater.com. Baglio will also perform the show at Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury on June 18.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Stage2. At the Strand Theatre, Dorchester, May 7 and May 14. Tickets $12 and $18. www.commshakes.org
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.