I met director Aaron Posner in a Las Vegas casino. I honked out bits of Bottom and pieces of Puck alone on a 3000 seat Vegas showroom stage to Aaron Posner and Aaron Posner alone. We had both been working on plays all across the land, and this rendezvous in the Nevada desert was the only way agents and casting people could get us together for an afternoon. I fled the casino quite sure he hated my acting. But, he cast me as Nick Bottom the Weaver in his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which played at both the California Shakespeare Theater and at Two River Theater Company in New Jersey. (If you ever have the chance to play Bottom, my advice is, “Do it!” It has to be the funnest role ever created; to be inside Bottom playing Pyramus is uncut actor ecstasy.)
As an example of the mental-health standard of your average actor: even during the meet and greet of the first rehearsal I still believed Aaron hated my acting and had somehow been saddled with me. He had indeed warned me, back at the casino, that if we worked together we would drive each other crazy. And then we fell in love. (Not showmance love; his wife Erin was Hermia for Dionysus’ sake; but bro-show-man-ce love). I loved his directing: black-belt confident, brave, risky, irreverent, smart, bossy, generous, filled from toe to top with an unbridled and infinite love of rococo linguistic gymnastics and borscht-belt buffoonery and everything in between all simultaneously and all full-blast. He loves actors. He loves Shakespeare. He makes everybody love creating as much as he does. He is rare; he is precious; he is awesome!
With Bottom, he and I created something new out of a role that has been done maybe more times than any other in the history of theater. (During some periods of theatrical history, some adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream did away with pretty much everything else!) I think we made sense of why an actor of Bottom’s skill was stuck working with amateurs. I think we created a more dramatic conflict and tension than usual between Titania and Bottom. And I think we actually expanded the completeness and unity of the worldview of love which renders the play so dependably joyous, successful, and divine. The play does not just end with a triple wedding, but a sort of quadruple wedding if we think of Titania and Oberon more or less renewing their vows, even though Oberon drugged his wife and forced her to copulate with a donkey (although I do believe the consummation in Aaron’s production might have been left ambiguous…). It’s a quintuple wedding if we acknowledge the liebestod of Pyramus and Thisby. But, we made it a SEX-tuple wedding by allowing the actors playing Pyramus and Thisby, Bottom and Flute, to also fall in love. This choice for MORE LOVE is so Posner and so Shakespeare and seemed so right and right-on and left-wing and revealed apparent truths in those earlier scenes I mentioned and represented the best of front-line in-the-field first-hand Shakespeare research and scholarship. And that is why I am so stoked to be doing Grumio with Aaron Posner here at the Folger!
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