I thought nothing could beat the night in the Dominion Theatre, London were I was once treated to a Noh performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. On that occasion, the players all wore masks and sang in Japanese as they glided about. My boyfriend and I were the only non-Japanese in the audience.
Tonight,three of my colleagues and I had free tickets for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland. We had entirely failed to notice that this would be performed in a mix of Mandarin and American, being a joint production between the University Theater school and The National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts.
We can agree, I hope, that the play is Shakespeare at his silliest. Past the wit of man indeed. Endless confusion, even when the language of Confucious is not employed. Much of the foolishness centers around a mortal named Bottom–although I am bound to say that there is a lot less six-year-old sniggering when the asinine name is rendered in Chinese, not English.
When the actors spoke in English, the gerry-rigged tvs at each side of the stage carried Chinese subtitles. When the Chinese actors spoke,Shakespeare’s words graced the screens in English.
The production was beautiful. Tatiana did some ribbon dancing and the nymphs all engaged in acrobatics. Puck put the spite in sprite and there was a lot of physical comedy on stage, including an erection joke or two. (Try saying if you’re Chinese.)
Peter Quince’s troupe were played by the American actors as a bluegrass band and their music, the sword dancing and the artful use of yards and yards of billowing Chinese silk were delightful and a welcome distraction of the tedious screaming and wailing of Helena and Hermia. We left at the interval, just as the two sets of lovers were set to make the transition from star-crossed (oh wait–that’s Romeo and Juliet) to starry eyed. We felt we could without Pyramus and Thisbe and the big, final love-in, but that is more a criticism of Shakespeare than of this Sino-American production. You won’t see it, and really that’s a shame.