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March 22, 2012 - 9:00pm

'A Midsummer Night' in early spring

Back in the spring of 2003, an ambitious group of local thespians decided to take a risk by boldly staging in Genesee County what no local troupe had staged here before: Shakespeare. Nine years later, "Shakespeare in Springtime" is thriving. This weekend the group is celebrating its 10th springtime with a repeat production of its first show, "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

“Shakespeare wrote so many plays, and we wanted to choose something familiar that we could do justice to,” Director E. Jane Burk says of the group’s original decision to perform the show nine years ago. “It was very well-received. It showed us that there really are some people out there who are willing to come see Shakespeare.”

The characters, comedy, and iambic pentameter may be the same as it was a decade ago, but make no mistake — this show is “entirely different” and definitely “not a repeat of last time.” Whereas the pioneer effort took place in a Midwestern 1950s carnival, this time around the show has a San Francisco setting circa the 1960s. The traditional fairy characters have been changed to hippies, demonstrating, Burk explains, “the difference between establishment and anti-establishment.”

Cast members agree that despite the large gap in time periods, the play translates easily from the intended Shakespearean setting to the more contemporary backdrop.

“The characters are universal,” says Malloryann Flanagan, who has the role of Puck. “A lot of the themes are still prevalent in society and are still relevant today.”

Flanagan and her sister, Caryn Burk, are the only two cast members who also appeared in the original production. But although the majority of the ensemble did not take part in the first “Shakespeare in Springtime” show, many of them have been seen in at least one other production put on by the group. One such actor is Paul Judkins, who has the part of Egeus.

“It’s always a challenge,” says Judkins, who cites his favorite previous Shakespearean role as the title character in "Julius Caesar." “You can’t use your natural language — you have to find the meaning behind the words. At first it was mystifying.”

Derrick Pechie, who has the role of Oberon, the fairy king, agrees that understanding the language gets easier with time:

“My first lead role in a Shakespeare play was in 'Richard III' two years ago. I did not know what I was saying. But now I can read the script and right away I know what it’s talking about.”

The difficult language and seemingly hidden meanings are exactly what makes Shakespeare so attractive to cast member Shellene Bailey, however.

“The language is sneaky,” she declares. “It’s very in-depth and very funny. There are lots of jokes and innuendos. It's very beautiful.” 

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. March 22-24 and at 2 p.m. March 25 at the Harvester 56 Theater (located at 56 Harvester Ave. in Batavia). There will also be a dinner theater performance at Terry Hills on the 31st.  

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