Cherry Hill East will perform the Shakesperean comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” next month – with a twist.
The show has several plots that involve residents of Athens, Greece, mixing with fairies from a local forest. It’s “whacky, funny and poignant,” notes a description from East’s theater director Peter Gambino, and includes thwarted lovers and a fresh take on those fairies, characters presented by East as traveling Carnival performers.
Gambino attributes the idea for the carnival twist in part to the school’s “brilliant choreographer and co-director Sandi Makofsky, who wanted to include a strong dance element with the fairies. Gambino then consulted with Matt Carr, a retired English teacher and Shakespeare fan, to edit the script.
“The script cutting we accomplished is very lean and faithful to the story,” Gambino explained. “However, it presents the audience with a slightly rearranged opening.”
Along with the opportunity to produce a full Shakespeare play, the students are also working with a local professional magician, Peter Cuddihy, to learn some techniques for the acts.
“I don’t want audiences expecting elaborate Houdini acts, since those would upstage our story,” Gambino noted, referring to the famous magician. “But hopefully, these slight-of-hand illusions will provide just the perfect amount of magic to help sell our theme.”
Performing Shakespeare presents students with some unique challenges. They have to comprehend what the lines mean so they can express the emotions and know when and how they say their dialogue.
“Shakespeare writes his work in Iambic pentameter,” observed Beck Lerman, a senior playing Helena, an Athens resident involved in an intricate love plot. “For me, I want to just say them and make it flow the way that I would make it flow, but you have to say it on a certain beat so that you can get the rhymes on point as well.”
Lerman is a member of the school’s Mime Club, the only high-school version in the state. He pointed out that even if the language isn’t always understood, the audience will still get the humor.
“There’s a lot of mimes (from the club) in this show, so we do a lot physically,” Lerman said. “Even if kids don’t understand the words we’re saying, physically it’s still going to make them laugh.”
Kyle McCann, a junior who plays Lysander, Hermia’s love interest, agreed.
“I think the finale is really going to bring the house down,” he observed. “It’s going to leave everyone on such a good and fun note.”
Emma Braser, a senior who plays Hermia, recalled watching the movie in studio class.
“Even if I didn’t understand what I was watching, it was so funny,” she related. “I thought the comedy was so spot on with the way that they portrayed it.”
It is a loose goal of the theater department to produce a full Shakespeare play every four years, so each graduating class has the opportunity to explore the writer’s work, according to Gambino.
“Producing ‘Midsummer’ in its entirety presents them (students) with numerous opportunities to appreciate the richness of the language, the depth of the characters, and of course, the multitude of insights the work continues to provide a modern audience,” he said.
The show will feature one cast on Fridays, Dec. 8 and 15, and Saturdays, Dec. 9 and 16. All shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. at East.