Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Arabian Night's Dream?

Yesterday two members of Oberon, Susan Nenadic and myself, went to the Ann Arbor District Library to hear director Jeff Myers and some of his cast talk about the Ann Arbor Civic Theater's upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, to be presented November 15-18 at the Lydia Mendelsosohn Theater. (Information on times and tickets at www.a2ct.org).

Mr. Myers has decided to adapt the play (while keeping 75-80% of the original text) with an eye towards Arabian or Islamic culture, pointing out that the original play (although not really historical) is set in Athens during the "Golden Age" of Theseus, whereas later in world history the "cultural capital of the world" had shifted to Arabia and particularly Baghdad.

Mr. Myers is setting his adaptation in Baghdad at around 800 AD. While retaining most of the original text, he has changed references to locations and has changed the names of the characters to reflect Islamic culture. Thus, instead of Oberon and Titania, we have Enkidu and Shamhat, the "wildman" and the woman who tamed him from the Ballad of Gilgamesh. Instead of Theseus we have Harun al Rashid, one of the most infuential of the caliphs during the "golden age" of Islam. Instead of "nonsensical" names for the mechanicals (Bottom, Flute, Snout, Starveling, etc.), Mr. Myers has opted for Arabic names, such as Kebab (type of food), Samoon (round of bread), Taboon (clay oven), Dishdasha (robe), Burut (mustache), and Masoor (lentil).

The biggest departure from Shakespeare is that Mr. Myers has completely removed Pyramus and Thisby and replaced it with a play adapted from the tale of Aziz and Azizah from the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights (He is using, by permission, an adaptation by the well-known New York playwright Mary Zimmerman).

Mr. Myers explains that this change is for two main reasons. First, it is in keeping with the Islamic cultural basis of the adaptation. The story of Aziz and Azizah (about two cousins who have an unhappy love affair) points out some of the more restrictive cultural elements of Islam and forms a nice counterpoint (according to Mr. Myers) of the more loose and free way the two pairs of lovers in the main plot (Ja'far and Abassa [originally Lysander and Hermia] and Kassim and Saffiah [originally Demetrius and Helena]) act when they are away from the court and in the woods.

The second reason for the change is that Mr. Myers has always found fault with the way the mechanicals are ridiculed by the nobles when they try to perform Pyramus and Thisby in Shakespeare's version. (This kind of ridiculing commoners and giving them funny names and having them speak in prose and having them make rude puns, etc. is of course rampant in all of Shakespeare's works. Perhaps this can be seen as a product of the true author's upbringing and world outlook?) In any case, Mr. Myers will be having the mechanicals actually be good actors and do a good job in presenting their play. The effect of this change will probably be the most interesting part of watching this adaptation.

I am hoping to be able to attend a performance of this work and I would encourage others to do so as well.

If enough of our group go and enjoy it, we can consider changing our name to the Enkidu Shakespeare Study Group.

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