Last Friday, the Cal Shakes staff got to attend a brown-bag lunch with Aaron Posner, who was in town for, among other things, some Midsummer Night’s Dream auditions. Though Posner cut his teeth in the Northeast—cofounding Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company and serving, currently, as Artistic Director of New Jersey’s Two River Theater Company—he grew up in Eugene, OR, which helped him fit in rather quickly with the casual-yet-enthusiastic admin staff here at Cal Shakes. And despite the fact that Midsummer doesn’t open till September, he gave us some valuable insight into where his creative process currently stands.
The first thing Posner told us was that he played Oberon in a fourth-grade production of Midsummer, wearing green tights and the torn-up lining of his mother’s coat. Years later, he was inspired to mount the play at the Arden by a friend who told him she would soon be too old to portray Helena; that production was the inaugural show at the Arden’s larger theater and Posner says that he had “the best time of my life” directing that production.
He’s thinking that the Cal Shakes/Two River coproduction will be fairly simple, scenically speaking, with a set by Erik Flatmo (Uncle Vanya, Richard III, TheatreWorks’ Radio Golf), lighting by Russell H. Champa (Pericles, Man and Superman, Berkeley Rep’s The Pillowman), and—new to Cal Shakes—Serbian costume designer Olivera Gajic, who recently did Midsummer at the Prague Quadrennial.
Posner is adamant that, “more so than any other writer, Shakespeare got that every day and every scene needs to have the capacity for wonder and amazement.” He says that the line “Lord what fools these mortals be” is central to his thinking about the play. “Shakespeare must have been in a pretty good mood when he wrote Midsummer, as he’s looking at all of these very broken people, and just lovin’ them.”
“My intuition is to go straight at it; full of love, amazement, hope, and magic. Not to get too Obama about it, but there’s a sense of optimism around.”
There is darkness in Midsummer, of course, and Posner doesn’t want to shy away from that. He cites a production of the play he saw in 1970s Eugene wherein Puck was played as a devilish satyr: “Cute pucks have since driven me a little crazy”; Loki in Norse mythology and the coyote in Native American lore are more his kinds of Pucks. “Because the world gets screwed up, you have to have someone who’s responsible for that.”
As Posner likes the idea of mythology lurking around the corners of everyday life, he says that the fairies in our Midsummer might only be implied—tiny, invisible sprites interacting with the actors. He also likes the idea of Titania and Oberon’s relationship straddling the line between royalty and “regular” marriage. “When the leadership is at odds, everyone beneath it suffers.”
Posner is currently working on an adaptation of Cyrado de Bergerac, a work that he says, like Midsummer, “leaves you wanting to live your life more fully.” Ultimately, the director says, he’d like the audience to walk out of the Bruns suffused with “optimistic delight.”