“The course of love did never run smooth.”
The course of love certainly did not run smooth for four of the main characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” presented by the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival this weekend. Set in a forest, not unlike the one audience members enjoyed in Prentis Park, four lovers are caught in the middle of a love quadrangle, thanks in part to the Queen and King of the fairies.
Demetrius and Lysander love Hermia. Helena loves Demetrius, but he is the partner Hermia’s father wishes her to marry. Lysander and Hermia decide to run away so they can be together forever without fear of her father. Helena wants to tell Demetrius of their flight so he falls in love with her, but Demetrius is already on his way to the forest, trying to catch up with the couple. Helena follows him, and now all four are in the mysterious forest. It’s confusing, but doesn’t this all sound like a typical, melodramatic romantic comedy?
Shakespeare is truly the master of a classic rom-com mix-up, yet there are serious underlying themes that leave a lasting impression. Remember, the young lovers live in a strict, patriarchal society, and if Hermia does not obey her father, she will be sent to a convent. Did true love exist for women of Shakespeare’s time?
To make matters worse for the young lovers, once in the forest, the fairies take the love tangle into their own hands.
In an attempt to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena, Puck, a fairy doing the bidding of the King of fairies Oberon, accidentally uses the magical flower on Lysander. Easy mistake considering the men are supposed to look similar (a common plot device of Shakespeare’s), which, in fact, the festival actors did. The flowers work in a way that causes the person to fall in love with the first person they see – Lysander sees Helena first, thus he falls in love with Helena, leaving Hermia to fend for herself.
What he thinks will undo his mistake, Puck uses the flower again, this time on Demetrius, and who does he see? Helena. Now both men are in love with Helena who believes they are only trying to mock her. And Hermia? She’s not happy.
On the brink of a serious clash, the young lovers are fooled by the voice of Puck who leads them astray and alone in the forest. As they are asleep, Puck uses his magic once again over Lysander, who awakes and falls in love with Hermia. Demetrius still loves Helena, and all is well.
Aside from the love quadrangle, there is a donkey, a troupe of actors and a train wreck of a play. It is no wonder “A Midsummer’s Night” is one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedy.
The festival’s ensemble gracefully and artfully negotiated the confusion and truly delighted the audience, young and old, with slapstick comedy, teenage antics, music, magic and fantasy and playfulness. It was a beautiful weekend to enjoy a midsummer’s night outside in Prentis Park, a coffee from The Bean and a turkey leg from Hy-Vee Catering.