photo collage from Annie, Fantastics, and Chicago of characters reading news

Dramaturg’s Notes

A Note from Our Dramaturg

Welcome to the Phamaly Theater Company’s 2023 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written by William Shakespeare, and adapted and directed by Shelly Gaza. We are so excited that you are joining us for an evening of magic, mischief, and mixed-up romance!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies. It tells the story of four young lovers from Athens who run away to the forest where they are put under a magic spell by the mischievous fairy, Puck. Puck is doing the bidding of his fairy master, Oberon, who is tangled up in a love spat of his own with his fairy queen, Titania. It is the classic lover’s triangle, but with a twist; while the human lovers from Athens manage their own changing desires, their story becomes entwined with the lover’s quarrel in the fairy world, creating a structural double plot that is characteristic of many of Shakespeare’s plays. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

At the same time, a group of “rude mechanicals,” or tradesmen, are traveling through the forest as they rehearse a play they hope to perform for the Duke of Athens on his wedding day. The play they are rehearsing is based on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses that tells a familiar story of star-crossed lovers who run away to elope. The play-within-a-play is not only a signature of Shakespeare’s form (think of “The Mousetrap” in Hamlet); it is also an homage to the working-class citizens with whom Shakespeare grew up in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The mechanicals nod to Shakespeare’s own classical education at the Stratford Grammar School where he was first introduced to Ancient Greek and Latin storytellers like Ovid.

We chose to set our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream one hundred years ago in the first half of the 1920s, as we too, in the early-2020s, emerge from a global pandemic and into a period of both progress and uncertainty in terms of social, political, and economic norms. Freedom from war, from outdated societal expectations, and from disease imbibed the early-1920s with a buzzing energy of possibility and revision—themes we see play out in the plot and language of Midsummer. For example, in the first scene of Midsummer when Hermia rebels against her father’s choice of marriage partner, we feel the spirit of an early-1920s woman liberated and learning to use her own voice to dictate her fate– “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Today, we also hope for a better future amidst the chaos we’ve endured at the turn of the decade, and we are invited to imagine this future in the melding of the magical and natural worlds at the end of Midsummer. This coming together of worlds is beautifully reflected in the scenic and lighting design of the production that draw inspiration from the 1920s Art Deco period.

All early modern comedies end in a marriage, and true to form, the play ends with (SPOILER!) the magic reversed, the couples reconciled, and more than one wedding celebrated.  It feels more important than ever to tell this story now: one of love and romance, one of mistakes and misunderstanding, and ultimately, one of playfulness and forgiveness as we move toward a better future together!


-Alyssa Miller, Dramaturg