A new take on Shakespeare

P-M gives 'Midsummer Night's Dream' a Southwest flair

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— Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp's production of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" transforms the story into a southwestern fable.

"I connected with the concept of transformation in this play how love can transform you," Director Joe Price said.

When Price began thinking about what transformation meant to him, he thought of the summers he spent in Taos, N.M., during the early 1990s, a place known for beauty and spirituality.

As he delved further into his thoughts, Price realized New Mexico's landscape and culture could be the perfect setting for the play.

The original plot of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is set during the time of Greek mythology in Athens. It tells numerous stories of love problems, primarily based around the lovers Lysander and Hermia venturing into the woods to escape marriage laws and to elope. The woods are a mysterious place where fairies live and magic and fantasy are reality.

Following the couple into the woods is Hermia's promised husband, Demetrius, and the woman who deeply loves him, Helena. With the fairy Puck and his love juice intervening, the two couples begin a mistaken affection toward each other.

This escape into the magical woods is common in mythology, and it seemed a good fit for the New Mexican culture, Price said. But he wanted to get away from the stereotypical adobe homes and mesas that most people think about the area and focused more on a Georgia O'Keefe perspective of the Southwest.

The stage for the Perry-Mansfield production, for example, is filled with images of bones and rocks of the dry climate.

Another interesting southwestern element is having the character Puck take more of a Kokopelli image a prehistoric deity depicted hundreds of times in rock art, some of it more than a thousand years old. The figures have their differences, but Price said they were "close enough that I thought it was worth exploring."

To add another original element to Puck's character, Price is casting three actors for the part, each making up a different personality of the fairy.

About 40 young performers, 15 to 17 years old, will tell Shakespeare's classic comedy with a southwestern flare. They will do it with less than four weeks of rehearsal time.

"This is a very short amount of time for a Shakespearian production," choreographer Liz Keen said.

Keen choreographed a tango dance scene for the play, as well as the movements of people on stage. She said the time element is demanding, but the actors are up to the job.

"We are attracting a very good quality of kids," she said.

Composer Ken Pierson, who wrote original music for the play, also in a southwestern style, said the process for putting the production together is like playing speed chess. It takes multiple tasks completed quickly at one time to allow for future tasks to be performed.

"It's challenging, but it's also doable," he said.

Price agreed it is doable, even though he would have liked to have spent two weeks with the actors just learning what each line means. Instead, he spent two days.

"We get some very talented kids, but it is a challenge. You can't go anywhere with a Shakespearian production until the actors and the company understand each word they say," he said.

But Price is not worried, believing his concept is truly unique and will be entertaining.

"When it all comes together," he said, "it will be a pretty amazing production."

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