by Amy Lee Pearsall · August 20, 2014
It is not unusual for there to be modern-day reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s works; it seems these classics are now regularly set in 1950’s upstate New York or post-apocalyptic Detroit. It is, however, unusual when someone pens an original addendum to a work as beloved as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is the latter type of work we find in The Drifting Theatre’s production of Human, written and directed by Alaska Reece Vance, now showing at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.
With Human, Vance creates a story based upon what happens when the changeling child that Titania (Liz Dollar) and Oberon (Andy Cobble) fight over in the original Midsummer grows up. The fairies are still struggling for custody of the changeling, here named Kellen (Zak Shaftlein). Kellen is valuable as his blood can bring dead things back to life, and as the fairy war has caused the forests of the world to die, Kellen has his work cut out for him.
There are still humans in the story, and Kellen visits them often as he sorts out his changeling adolescent identity crisis. A botanist (William Campbell) tries to figure out what’s destroying the forests, while his daughter Ramona (Sunshine Hughes) wrestles with college choices, a new diabetes diagnosis, and tending a garden that – for some reason – hasn’t fallen victim to the otherwise rampant plant pestilence. And because the future of the world isn’t enough to juggle, Puck (John Kaywood) is still here – in fact, he’s terribly jealous of Kellen – and he causes all sorts of hell to break loose in his attempts to manipulate other fairies to get the changeling banished from the fairy world.
If it sounds like a lot is going on, that’s because there is. The urgency of saving the world is lost under a blanket of lust and manipulation, and the diabetes sub-plot conflict between Ramona and her father lends an unfortunate air of an after-school special to the proceedings. Vance stages the piece well enough, but the direction tends towards the overly dramatic, and humor in this hour and fifty minute piece is badly needed. The play runs sans intermission.
The fairy costumes designed by Vance and DeAnda Hatfield, aided by the make-up design of Liz Dollar, are really quite fun. Leather, feathers, headpieces, fanciful hair extensions, and bare midriffs made it clear that the fairies were not of this world. The cast, for the most part, are game and try to rise to the challenges of the piece. Liz Dollar as Titania, in particular, is a delight to watch.
The question that one most often comes up against with a piece of fan-fiction is what new ideas and perspectives can be examined and explored with the continuation of a storyline under new authorship? While watching Human, I was briefly reminded of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel The Mists of Avalon, which explores the Arthurian legends from a feminist perspective, but no great departure takes place here beyond a lack of pentameter. Vance’s heart is in the right place, but Human struck this viewer as being only half-realized.