A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A modern take on a classic play

Regendered characters and large cast make the production unique


Photo courtesy of Lenfest Center website

Virginia Laurie

Washington and Lee’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” boasts at least 20 students and an alumna in its cast and crew.

Micah Holcomb, ‘21, the play’s assistant director, said this large cast is intentional.

“We wanted the play to be totally immersive, for the audience to feel immersed in this big city setting.” Holcomb said. “This is a Herculean undertaking.”

The production features an original composition by Washington and Lee alumna Dana Gary ‘18, inspired by Norse and Celtic musical traditions.

“It adds to the immersive quality and creates a new layer of texture in the play,” Holcomb said.

The production also presents a unique interpretation of the story through significant changes to the genders of the traditional characters

In this production, Win Gustin, ‘20, plays Hermia, Julia Habiger, ’21, plays Demetrius, Andrew Creel, ’20, plays Helena and Harris Billings, ’20, plays Lysander.

Gustin, who regularly performs in Washington and Lee productions, elaborated on the gendering of characters in the performance.

“Naturally my role is gender bent, along with most of the lovers – my character, Hermia, is gay and in love with his boyfriend, Lysander,” Gustin said. “[This change] clarifies why exactly Hermia refused to marry Demetrius, who has been changed to female, and why Hermia and Lysander ran away from the oppressive laws of Athens in the first place.”

Holcomb added that these changes appeal to “modern sensibilities” while remaining faithful to the spirit and underlying themes of the play.

“In this play, two lovers aren’t allowed to be together, which translates really well to the LGBT community,” Holcomb said. “We aren’t trying to feminize men in traditionally female roles or vice versa, rather drawing out the universality of the characters. We didn’t try to translate lines to fit the regendered characters, just let the actors’ individual personalities shine and see how they wanted to inhabit the lines.”

Holcomb worked closely with Director and Assistant Professor Jemma Alix Levy who shared her hopes to re-envision how plays are cast.

“I hope that by presenting some unexpectedly-gendered couplings on our stage, and by having them uncommented upon — just a given part of the story — people are encouraged to see them as familiar, unexceptional, and just another part of the story of the world around them,” Levy said. “Or maybe, conversely, to recognize the unique nature of every relationship, while also recognizing the underlying similarities in all of them, and the universality of love as a whole, in all its iterations.”

Levy also commented on breaking theatrical precedent when playing with characters’ genders and sexualities.

“Certainly companies have been cross-gender casting Shakespeare’s plays for generations… and there is a lot of precedent for creating gay characters onstage,” Levy said. “But I don’t think there is a huge precedent for showing gay couples.

With “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Levy said there has been another show that portrays a gay couple, but it is out of the norm.

“Emma Rice’s recent production at the Globe in London had a gay male Helena, who coupled with a male Demetrius, but as far as I know this is not a longstanding tradition,” she said.

Levy and the cast and crew are creating a new and exciting interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous and oft-adapted comedies.

The cast is also about 75 percent female, said Holcolmb, adding that in traditionally gendered productions, the cast is predominantly male.

Holcomb said the production also redistributed lines to cast members to empower and explore some characters who played smaller roles in the original text.

“Jemma [Levy] gave a lot of Theseus’s lines to Hippolyta since she’s the Queen of the Amazons and an extraordinary mythical figure who barely has any lines!” Holcomb said. “The play is heavily cut, redistributed, and regendered, but in ways that reinforce the theme of love and equality.”

The production spread across campus on Thursday, October 24, students entered the Marketplace, known as D-Hall, to find it transformed in honor of the upcoming production. Executive Chef Patrick Swope said he enjoys creating meals in support of campus theater.

“It is our hope that when our student’s experience these Lenfest Center meals that we can transport them to the time and place of the productions,” Swope said.

The theme of the dinner reflected the play’s setting of ancient Greece.

“The basis of the menu is ancient Grecian cuisine,” Swope said. “I wanted to combine classic Greek dishes with a romantic flair and a bit of fantasy to hopefully capture the vibe of a fairy forest in ancient Greece.”

Chef Swope spends about two months researching and planning Lenfest Center meals, a tradition that began three years ago during a production of Dracula.

“It was a lot of fun on our end. So we have continued the relationship for every production since,” Swope said. “It is a blast to do these meals and help support the arts on campus, as well as the W&L community as a whole.”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” premiers on Halloween night at 7:30 pm in the Keller Theatre, followed by performances on Friday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 pm, Sat., Nov. 2 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 pm.

Tickets are required, but are only $5 for students, and can be purchased online or at Lenfest Hall across from Keller Theatre.