Director’s Political Acumen
Is William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a political drama hiding within a comedy-romance?
Perhaps it’s a side of the play that’s ripe for exploration, particularly by a director who’s a true-blue D.C. native.
Ethan McSweeny, director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s run of the Bard’s comedic masterpiece, is proud of his roots.
“I was born in Georgetown University Hospital. I’m a native, native. Wait, check this out,” McSweeny tells HOH, reaching into his wallet and brandishing his D.C. license. “Here’s my D.C. driver’s license. I’m the real thing.”
McSweeny’s political acumen — the St. Albans-educated native says he thought he was going to be a Senate staffer-type policy wonk before he eventually got distracted by theater — at least partially explains how he unpacked the power struggle at the heart of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” currently playing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through Jan. 6.
The play depicts the battle between King of the Faeries Oberon (Tim Campbell) and Queen of the Faeries Titania (Sara Topham) and how their subjects are affected, with the action taking place within a broken-down yet grandly intimidating theater.
For close observers of the political system, this struggle between two centers of power will feel familiar, particularly with the Capitol having just played host to such grand conflict over the fiscal cliff.
“I’ve always been sort of seduced by Titania and Oberon,” he says. “When we first meet them they are basically in a custody battle over this little changeling boy. They have a history of infidelity between them that they sort of hurl at each other,” McSweeny says. “And then they have to do something mature, after doing some immature things to each other … they have to come to some [compromise]. They have to be grown-ups about it.”
But even with their deal, it’s obvious there will be future clashes.
“I think whenever you do a play, you have some sort of speculative audience in mind, and as director, until we actually start having audiences, I’m sort of the audiences’ surrogate for a long time,” he says. The fact that it is such a popular play helped him to head in the direction he’s staged for the current production.
“It is a play many people have been in. It is a play amateurs and professionals alike like to do, so there is a great deal of familiarity around the play,” McSweeny says. “So, I tried to come at it thinking about what I could do that would be authentic, truthful, more than being obsessed with doing something new.”