Theatre Gigante retells ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’

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Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson, of Theatre Gigante, have taken the Shakespearean classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream and turned it completely upside down to see what shakes out of it. Milwaukee audiences can see too, when the artistic duo’s new adaptation opens May 9.

Kralj and Anderson admit they came up with the clever name Midsummer in Midwinter before anything else. But they’d planned from the beginning to diverge from Shakespeare’s text in more than name.

“We knew we weren’t going to do Midsummer,” says Kralj. “We were going to do our own thing.”

The core of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is its examination of love and how making the right or wrong choice in it can change your life, according to Kralj.  So they decided their adaptation had to deal with that issue, which led them to their main characters: Two pairs of middle-aged couples and two young lovers, who all converge on a North Woods cabin on a midsummer evening.

Kralj is hesitant to unveil too many details of their storyline, saying their divergence from the source material will work better as a surprise to the audience. But she acknowledges the age differences in the play are more purposeful than incidental.

Unlike Shakespeare’s original, where the mature couples are pushed to the periphery, Midsummer in Midwinter puts them in the middle of the action. Kralj says focusing on them allows her and Anderson to show that there are more similarities than you might anticipate between their love affairs and those of their younger counterparts.

“Love when you’re 20 is looked on as different than love in your 40s, but it really isn’t,” she says.

Her production’s six lovers are joined by a group of woodland wanderers much smaller than the group who peopled Shakespeare’s comedy. Replacing the original “mechanicals” is the lone character Nick, who’s lost in the woods on his way to a poetry slam. The tribe of fairies is represented by Puck (perhaps a character’s imaginary friend), and two assistants are played by dancers Edwin Olvera and Jessie Mae Scibek.

Many of the show’s cast members are Theatre Gigante regulars, which made the rehearsal process much easier. Kralj and Anderson were able to put together a first draft with the actors already in mind, leading to minimal rewrites. Kralj says it’s easier to work with artists who understand the manner of direction she and Anderson have cultivated in their careers, which focuses on specific movements and little subtle moments.

“(For the regulars) there’s no struggle in adapting to our style of creating and working,” she says.

But even as this production retains the stylistic cohesion common to Theatre Gigante, it breaks new ground. Anderson says they’re drifting farther into the realm of farce than before, playing their characters with cartoon-like brushstrokes.

“We had fun making these choices,” he says, “feeling liberated and at ease. Why not?”

The Theatre Gigante production is also breaking new ground by blending both live and pre-recorded music to accompany the acting and dancing onstage. The latter half consists of compositions by experimental toy band artist Frank Pahl. It will be complemented by singers Amanda Huff and Daniel Mitchell, who’ll perform original works live during Midsummer in Midwinter.