A Conversation with Midsummer’s Cast

…I know a place where the wild thyme grows…”
Members of the MIDSUMMER acting company talk about
their first encounters with this magical play

Do you remember the first time you saw A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM?

Anthony Heald (Theseus/Oberon): I have no idea how old I was—probably around 10—nor where I saw the performance—probably a college production. But I vividly remember the thrill I got, being immersed in that “fairy world.”

Taylor Mac (Egeus/Puck): The first time I saw it where it made an impression on me was at BAM just a few years ago—an all-male production from England. What I liked most about that one was that in the intermission the whole company sang songs in the lobby as a kind of men’s choir, and it was so delightful and sweet and I thought “yes, that’s how you keep the energy of the show going and keep people engaged in the themes of the play and the tone of the play and yet still give them a break.” It broke the barrier between the audience and the performers and I loved that about it.

Christina Ricci (Hermia): The first time I saw A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM I was around 10 or 11. My mother took me to a production of it in New York.

Steven Skybell (Bottom): The first time I came into contact with it was when I performed in it. At the age of 17, I played Bottom, so it’s been thirty-odd years and I’m still playing Bottom! The first production I saw would have been Tina Landau’s production at the McCarter Theatre back in 2005.

What was your impression of the play then?

Anthony: I remember being surprised by every aspect—and especially by Bottom’s re-entrance with “the ass’s knoll” fixed to his head. I can still see it!

Taylor: How physical the play is and how slapsticky it is. That, combined with the poetry, is really what elevates it for me. I like things that have duality in them and are a big mash-up of a lot of different things. And that’s what MIDSUMMER felt like to me when I first experienced it.

Christina: I loved it! It was so magical! I just loved the whimsy and mystery.

Steven: It’s such an interesting play because it gives the impression of being a light-weight tale of lovers and fairies and the magic world, and that’s how I’ve always thought of it. I’m amazed to find out as we’ve been working on it that it is much more than that. Our director Tony Speciale says that it’s one of the most-produced shows ever and I think it’s because people assume that it’s easy and simple in its geometry. Now that I’m really delving into it, it’s so much more complicated and murky. So my first impressions of it as a young man are now being turned completely on their ear. It’s much more spikey than people give it credit for being.

What drew you to your character?

Anthony: The chance to do BOTH Theseus and Oberon – to play both sides of a complex, contradictory person. And to speak those magical lines, that gorgeous poetry. And, of course, to play opposite Ms. Neuwirth—a “dream” come true!

Taylor: I kind of call myself a fool in my own work, but I’ve never played a fool before in any of the canon. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to play the fool and that’s what drew me to it. And then when Tony asked me also to play Egeus, I just thought that the range there of being able to do these two seemingly polar-opposite characters was really exciting for me as an actor.

Christina: I was more drawn to the play as a whole, not just the character I portray, although, I do love ‘the lover’ storyline and the high, teenage drama they go through in this play!

Steven: The thing that I love about the character of Bottom is that his name sort of says it