Most productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” open with a lush forest scene, but Randy Messersmith has something very different in mind for the “Midsummer” he’s directing this season for Scottsdale Community College, where he heads the theatre arts program.
Messersmith was inspired to mount the work after seeing television footage of the devastating earthquakes that struck Japan earlier this year. For Messersmith, “Midsummer” is a tale of human nature gone awry — and its devastating consequences for nature.
Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” weaves together events in the fairy world and events in the mortal world. Titania and Oberon, queen and king of the fairies, bicker over the fate of a young “changeling” boy.
Early in the play, Titania (queen of the fairies) gives what Messersmith calls “the weather report” — describing the fog, famine and other disasters that have befallen mere mortals because of their dissention. “The world is all out of whack,” says Messersmith. “It’s life out of balance.”
“I looked at the tales of the Arabian Nights,” recalls Messersmith, “and found this a compelling way to tell the Midsummer story.” These tales, explains Messersmith, are set in Baghdad, Syria and China — the Persian area. He decided to present “Midsummer” through that lens.
Oberon sends the playful Puck to work all sorts of mischief in others’ love lives. In Shakespeare’s play, Puck uses a flower to work his magic. But in Messersmith’s production, Puck’s tool is a jewel. It’s all part of the “Arabian Nights” vibe for Messersmith’s vision.
Messersmith shares that his production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens with a young boy dressed in contemporary garb. A light shines down on a book the boy is reading — a collection of “Arabian Nights” tales. Soon “he steps inside the Midsummer story” — which is “told through the boy’s lens.”
The pastoral scene that typically opens this, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, is gone. In its place, Messersmith presents a “burned out desert.” Until, that is, Oberon and Titania reconcile later in the play. It’s a work, says Messersmith, that still has relevance today.
But never fear that this production of “Midsummer” may be too dark. “It’s still a comedy,” says Messersmith. “It’s still got lots of romance.” Messersmith notes that the costumes and sets are “very romantic” but that the show has a real “edge to it.”
Messersmith is a man who knows his way around Shakespeare, having co-founded the Valley’s own Southwest Shakespeare Company, which opened it’s 18th season this month with a production of “Titus Andronicus” directed by David Barker. Messersmith played the title role.
I noticed during “Titus Andronicus” that Messersmith — who lives in Gilbert with wife Denise, daughter Alex and twin cats Daisy and Violet — has a small tattoo just below the back of his neck. He shared when I asked that it had nothing to do with the show, but told me he’d gotten it to mark earning his black belt in karate in 2003.
Having seen Messersmith’s gift for acting, teaching and directing, I’m inclined to think there’s more of a tattoo/talent connection than Messersmith himself might realize. The tattoo, he told me, is Kanji for “trust yourself.”
Note: Click here to read more about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College.
Coming up: Valley playwright tackles Munchausen syndrome, Shakespeare meets Sondheim