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JMU guest director gives popular Shakespeare play a new twist

jmuDirector and educator Oliver Mayes has turned one of Shakespeare’s most popular and performed plays on its head in the James Madison University School of Theatre and Dance’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs Tuesday–Saturday, October 12–16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 17 at 2 p.m. at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was originally written in 1595 and set in Athens, Greece; this production is set in 1969 in Athens, Ohio. “There are a lot of parallels between this play and the 1960s, and we still see many of those elements in today’s culture,” shares Mayes, a theatre and media artist from Portland, Oregon. Mayes, who enjoys directing plays with style, or plays that are highly magical or fantastical, says A Midsummer Night’s Dream focuses on magic, patriarchy, but predominantly love—and more specifically on the power and difficulty of love and desire.

The cast features 22 theatre, musical theatre and music students whose characters experience love triangles, mistaken identities as well as physical and emotional transformations. In this heightened language production, characters speak to one another in a poetic nature, often using metaphors or rhyme to convey meaning.

Freshman musical theatre and School of Communication Studies double major Mason Jett is playing Lysander, a lead role, in his first JMU production. “Lysander is romantic and poetic, and I love to play that character type.” The course of true love never did run smooth” is famously declared by Lysander to his love interest Hermia, played by senior theatre major Maddie Thomas. Lysander and Hermia are both part of The Lovers in a cast divided into groups that also include The Rulers, The Artisans, and The Fairy Band.

On a midsummer’s night, The Lovers and The Artisans find themselves wrapped in the dream-like arms of an enchanted forest where The Fairy Band rules with live music. Part of The Fairy Band is the impish Puck, played by Carter Crosby who also composed and directed music for the show along with Allie Lytle. Both Crosby and Lytle are senior musical theatre majors; Crosby is playing the guitar and Lytle the guitar and rainstick in her role as Peaseblossom in The Fairy Band. Other fairies play the cajon, hand drum, tambourine, finger cymbals, and kalimba.

According to Crosby, the music is “‘60s-focused with a twist” and is different depending on the scene: it is pre-produced in The Rulers’ court of Athens and is live in the forest, where nature interacts with clear elements of the set to transparent lighting representative of the psychedelic aspect of the 1960s. Costumes cater to the time period, and aesthetics differ between The Lovers, The Rulers, The Artisans, and The Fairy Band.

In addition to Mayes, the artistic staff includes JMU faculty members Richard Finkelstein (scenic design), Emily Becher-McKeever (sound design) and Kathleen Conery (costume design) as well as JMU students Skyler James (costume design associate), Sophie Sons (costume design associate), Catherine Holcomb (lighting design) and Juleanna Green (stage manager).

Tickets are $17–$18. For tickets, visit www.jmuforbescenter.com or call the Forbes Center Box Office at (540) 568-7000.