AHS Presents A Midsummer Night's Dream with a Difference
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
The eye of
man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen,
man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to
conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream
(Nick Bottom: Act 4, Scene 1)
On November 4th and 5th the Arlington High School (AHS) Drama Guild production of A Midsummer Night's Dream will cast its spell at 869 Massachusetts Avenue (see ticket information below). The play centers on a magic love potion that first affects the Athenian lovers Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena, who proceed to change their allegiances with shocking rapidity. Next Titania, Queen of the Fairies, falls under the enchantment and lavishes her affection on Nick Bottom, a country-bumpkin temporarily transformed into a donkey. This descent into chaos begins when Oberon, King of the Fairies, orders his impish servant, Puck, to deliver the potion, but by the final act, to invoke another of Shakespeare’s works, all’s well that ends well.
"In this show we’re dismantling hierarchical systems," said director Michael Byrne, and to accomplish that goal several female actors are taking on traditionally male roles. “In the end two women, Demetrius and Helena, will end up together, and a man and a woman, Lysander and Hermia, will end up together. We’ve also flipped Theseus [Duke of Athens] and Hippolyta [Queen of the Amazons]; Theseus is now a woman in charge," Byrne noted.
In addition, Hermia’s father, Egeus, is now her mother, and four of the six bumpkins (all originally male) are played by females. For Byrne the gender switching is “a door into Shakespeare’s language," which is both heightened and archaic. "We’ve changed the pronouns, but very little else; it's the best way to use the talent we have."
The process of breaking down hierarchies began with a “Renaissance run,” a series of rehearsals conducted by actor-managers instead of the director which, Byrne observed, “is how it was done during the Renaissance. So for the first week of rehearsals the students had to solve all the problems presented by the script."
To stage the lovers’ extended comic battle in Act 3, Scene 2, Byrne brought in a fight choreographer, Nathan Malin (AHS 2017), who has worked on previous AHS productions. "The actors were very engaged in building the choreography. It was really a collaborative process," Byrne noted, "which is what I wanted the whole thing to be. Nancy McCarthy, our costume designer, is another AHS graduate , and this is her third show with us."
There will also be live music, starting with an excerpt from the scherzo of Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then moving on to contemporary pop. Listen for Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Bruno Mars’s “Marry You,” and eight other songs performed by an AHS student string quartet. Also, look for actors and musicians to be using all parts of the auditorium, including movable chairs, fixed seats, and the balcony. “We’ll be everywhere,” Byrne promised.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
(Lysander: Act 1, Scene 1)
Ghulám Aliridha Woolman (2025) plays Lysander, lover of Hermia, who temporarily falls in love with Helena because of Puck's machinations. “This is the first major production I’ve been in,” he said, “and it’s a really fun role to play.” He especially relishes the stage combat: “Nathan was brought in to show us how it all goes, and that was a very interesting learning experience. It forces you to use your whole body to tell a story.
“The fighting is the most fun. Demetrius throws me to the ground, then Hermia and Demetrius grab me, and I try to shake them off. There’s insults and bickering -- it’s hilarious, and it’s why anybody would want to play these roles.”
Fetch me that flower; the herb I showed thee once.
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
(Oberon: Act 2, Scene 1)
William Bouck (2024), who plays Oberon, noted that his character “supports the hierarchy. He orders Puck to cast a spell on his wife in order to gain custody of 'the changeling child,' a servant of hers. At the end, when Titania wakes up, their relationship becomes more equal, more natural, and stronger.”
A big part of learning Shakespeare, is finding a bridge between the language of his time and the language of today. There’s a mountain of non-modern literature out there that I will probably be able to read more easily because of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Lysander, keep thy Hermia. I will none.
If e’er I loved her, all that love is gone …
(Demetrius: Act 3, Scene 2)
Jenny Brigham (2024), who plays Demetrius, noted that “the gender bending in this production is really exciting." Demetrius, as Shakespeare wrote him, “is trying to force Hermia to marry him, so he’s not the kindest character," said Brigham, "and instead of having that come from a stereotypical male, it’s fun to see it through a female lens."
And are you grown so high in his esteem
Because I am so dwarfish and so low?
(Hermia: Act 3, Scene 2)
Hermia, played by Miriam Oliveri-Schneider (2024), loves Lysander and is close friends with Helena, who loves Demetrius, but they turn on each other when Lysander becomes devoted to Helena. “Hermia and Helena have a sisterly bond,” said Oliveri-Schneider, “but then they become enemies and criticize each other’s height, which is funny, because Allie [Walsh, who plays Helena] and I actually have a big height difference. The bond they have means that they really know how to get to each other.”
Good Hermia, do not be so bitter with me.
I evermore did love you …
(Helena: Act 3, Scene 2)
Walsh (2025) also commented on the intensity of Helena's relationship with Hermia, noting that “when they fight, Helena is shocked, but she doesn't realize how serious her friend is until Hermia threatens her with bodily harm. At that point Helena really gets scared and asks Lysander and Demetrius to protect her."
One of the greatest joys of the show is working with my scene partners. In the fight scene Demetrius and Lysander are both in love with Helena, so they crawl toward her and grab her legs, but she believes they are mocking her, so even though she's is in love with Demetrius, she won’t have any of it."
Good Master Mustardseed….
your kindred hath made my eyes
water ere now.
(Bottom: Act 3, Scene 1)
Mustardseed, played by Charlotte Sanzo (2026) is one of four named fairies (the others being Peaseblossom, Cobweb, and Moth). When Titania falls in love with Nick Bottom, who has been transformed into a donkey through another application of the love potion, Sanzo noted that their queen calls upon this group of fairies “to wait on her donkey boyfriend. We’re Titania’s elite squad.”
O, how I love thee! How I dote on thee!
(Titania to Bottom: Act 4, Scene 2)
“This is our first production in the new auditorium," said Keira Haley (2024), "which is incredibly exciting because it’s quite the upgrade and gives us so much room to move around.
"Titania is very different from the roles I’ve had in the past. I was Marion in The Music Man in the Arlington Children’s Theatre production over the summer; now I’m playing someone who is much more bold and well-spoken. I feel a lot of responsibility to give her the power she deserves."
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
(Puck: Act 3, Scene 2)
Lucia Grunko (2025) plays Puck, mischief-maker par excellence. “A couple of years ago," said Grunko, "I thought I could only play characters that I wanted to be in real life. Then something in my mind clicked, and I realized I can do whatever I want when I’m onstage. That opened up a whole world for me, and since then I’ve enjoyed playing villains and comical characters.
"I grew up watching Mary Martin’s Peter Pan on tape, and I draw inspiration from that. As Puck I’m a woman playing a boy just as Mary Martin did when she played Peter Pan. It took me a while to make that connection, and now I’m really glad I get to explore it.”
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
(Puck, a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow: Act 5, Scene 1)
A Midsummer Night's Dream will be presented on Friday, Nov 4th, at 7:30 PM and Saturday, Nov 5th, at 2:00 and 7:30 PM at the AHS auditorium, 869 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, Massachusetts 02476. To purchase tickets, click here.