Love, magic, music and 'A Midsummer Nights' Dream' in Jazz Age New Orleans


LENOX -- Setting William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Nights' Dream" in Jazz Age New Orleans was a no-brainer for director Tony Simotes.

"This is a play about love and magic, and there is something about New Orleans, the Delta --the air, the heat, the people," Simotes said during an interview at Shakespeare & Company, where his production officially opens in the Tina Packer Playhouse 2 p.m. Sunday after final previews tonight and Saturday.

"In the Delta, everything is nature filtering in. The energy is always

"A Midsummer Nights' Dream" always has had special meaning for Shakespeare & Company -- and for Simotes. It was the first show Shakespeare & Company produced in its inaugural season at The Mount in 1978; it was the last show the company performed there when they said goodbye to The Mount in 2000. It was last seen on the Shakespeare & Company mainstage in 2007. Its school touring production of "Midsummer" played The Mount last summer.

This is the third "Midsummer Nights' Dream" Simotes has directed. And he played Puck in that 1978 production.

"I just felt it would be a good choice for the mainstage this season," Simotes said.

"I knew I wanted to work with (actor) Johnny Lee (Davenport) this summer.

"I knew from having worked with (resident composer) Alexander Sovronsky on ‘As You Like It' (in 2011) he'd be right for the music for this show.

"I wanted Rocco Sisto back and when I asked him what role he'd like to play and he said Oberon, a role he's never done, I knew I'd have him.

"I'd been thinking about the Jazz Age and what it signified for me; New Orleans; the magic of the Delta. It just all began coming together."

Davenport also has a special connection to "A Midsummer Nights' Dream." It's the first Shakespeare he ever acted in. He played Oberon in a 1978 production at the Body Politic in Chicago, a role he's done three times since.

He's playing Nick Bottom now, an eager member of the mechanicals who is made an ass, literally, when, through no real fault of his own, he is caught between warring lovers Titania and Oberon.

"Everything he does comes from his own understanding, his certainty that he can do whatever he takes on to do," Davenport said, joining Simotes and Sovronsky for the interview.

"It comes from a good place, a place of joy."

"There really are reasons to be joyful when he is around and unhappy when he's not. He has a real generosity of spirit," said Sovronsky who, in addition to composing and conducting the music, is playing the role of Flute.

Simotes thinks it's no accident that "A Midsummer Nights' Dream" has, for all intents and purposes, come to be considered Shakespeare & Company's signature piece. It is a play about magic, about nature. Shakespeare & Company performed in an outdoor space -- two of them, actually -- for nearly half its artistic life. Nature infused, to one extent or another, each of the company's productions at The Mount.

"Theater," Simotes said, "is a sacred space. I think this play brings you to the heart and soul of what theater is about."

"I'm from Shreveport (La.), where voodoo is practiced in parts of the culture," Davenport said. "It strikes me how similar to voodoo this play is. Everything is in nature, a world in which gods can walk on Earth and infuse everything. It's easy to believe that someone could put ears on you and make magic."


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