The Guthrie: Midsummer Dream or nightmare?

The Twin Cities will break down this weekend between those watching the Wild and those watching wild things onstage.

The Guthrie is staging its reprisal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Only, it’s not as much of a reprisal as you’d think. It’d certainly have been smart move, given that every performance sold out during the 1997 run. But artistic director Joe Dowling is going deeper this time; here’s hoping he left a trail of bread crumbs to find his way out of the magical forest.

There’s no end, of course, to the contemporary themes that directors saddle Shakespeare with these days, and many times the work still manages to hold up. But whereas Dowling’s previous, more puckish foray into the forest was playful, romantic, and–dare we say, sexy–this version is darkened by a post-9/11 template of sexual politics. There are military uniforms, camo, and the forest itself it is “malignant,” says Dowling. Adolescence here isn’t playful or innocent–or without consequence. Mess with the long-haired dude with the tattoo at your own risk. (Great, just as we were getting ready to leave all that paranoia and fear–Hello, Obama!–behind.)

Dowling has said he doesn’t think the interpretation goes too far: “The language always brings you back,” he told the Star Tribune. In this case, I might agree: Midsummer is one of those Shakespearean comedies that, frankly, could use more depth, and to the extent that Dowling finds real meaning–not just a telegraphing of fear in the forest–this could be an even better version than the last.