Shakespeare under the stars: Island Stage Left presents ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Submitted by Island Stage Left

Take a handful of unhappy lovers, add a dark forest, and put an impulsive fairy behind every tree. Stir them all up with wild imaginings, and what have you got? Everybody’s favorite play, of course. Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Island Stage Left’s new fantasy-forest production opens July 11 and will run on the outdoor stage for five weekends.

“It is just crammed full of imagination and dreams,” says ISL Artistic Director Helen Machin-Smith. “It takes us into another world, which is one of the reasons it appeals to children.”

The play leads us into a supernatural fairy kingdom ruled by the darkly powerful Oberon and his proud queen, Titania. Her servant Puck, a creature somewhat lacking in human empathy, is chief troublemaker. He gleefully sows misery and confusion with a magic love potion that mixes up people’s affections. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Puck exults.

“The fairies are mischievous, they mess things up, and they do it in a way that makes sparks fly,” Machin-Smith says. “The natural world – weather, sun, trees, flowers – these are things of beauty and calm and beneficence in Shakespeare. But the supernatural world is almost always dark.” That’s literally true here: nightfall transforms the forest into a mysterious, threatening domain where imaginations run wild.

Machin-Smith goes a step further. For her, the scenes in fairyland take place as if in a dream – that is, in the imagination. “As far as I’m concerned, imagination is one of the most important attributes that humans possess. Without imagination we wouldn’t have science, we wouldn’t have gone to space, we wouldn’t be curing diseases,” she says. “But it can also distort.”

Imagination cuts the last tie with reality when Puck transforms Bottom, a workman and would-be actor, into a half-donkey, and makes him a pawn in the love-quarrel between Oberon and Titania. Bottom is so firmly fixed in his own reality that he never quite figures out he’s been transformed, even after he is restored to normalcy. “Bottom is just so lovable, so full of himself and also full of warmth and enthusiasm,” Machin-Smith comments. ISL co-director Daniel Mayes plays Bottom in this production, and the hilariously amateur play-within-a-play Bottom stars in, near the end of the show, is a comic highlight.

“Of all Shakespeare’s plays, this one is so easy to follow, because the quarrels and issues are all so familiar in our own world: lovers arguing, people misunderstanding one another. There’s so much misunderstanding going on!” Machin-Smith says. “There’s also a recognizable hierarchy of male and female going on, which the females rebel against.”

“And on that score, there’s a big twist in our version of the play. We haven’t changed Shakespeare’s words, but we’ve shifted an important power dynamic.”

Professional actors have come from New York, Portland and Seattle to join local San Juan Islanders in this magical comedy spiced with fairy songs, Greek dancing and a charmed setting under the stars at Island Stage Left, the San Juans’ only professional theater company.

Admission is free, donations are gratefully accepted.

All performances are at 8 p.m. on the outdoor stage at 1062 Wold Road, San Juan Island. Chairs are provided. Please dress warmly and bring a blanket and/or warm clothes (even a parka) for when the sun goes down.

No latecomers, please.

Performances run Thursday through Sunday except during the last week of July:

July 11, 12, 13, 14

July 18, 19, 20, 21

July 23*, 24*, 25, 28 – please note different show nights in this week

August 1, 2, 3, 4

August 8, 9, 10, 11

Further information:

For wheelchair access or other arrangements, email us: