Midsummer Night’s Dream goes punk

Back in 1978, Fran Gebhard visited New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

The music wasn’t to the taste of Gebhard, then a young actor who adored the mellow tones of Donovan and Cat Stevens. The punk rock was loud, aggressive and hyper-masculine.

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Nonetheless, it was an unforgettable experience.

“When you walked out of the door of Max’s Kansas City, the sun would be coming out,” she recalled.

Those memories have rubbed off on a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is directed by Gebhard, today an assistant professor with the University of Victoria’s drama department. The show is replete with punk references. Puck is a mohawked graffiti artist with an anarchy symbol on his black vest. Actors belt out the Clash’s I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.

It’s not a wholly punk-inspired endeavour. Yes, we hear the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. However, the soundtrack in this music-stuffed frolic runs the gamut, including K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Nick Gilder, the Doors and the Village People.

Originally set in Athens, Shakespeare’s comedy is relocated to Central Park. New York City is represented musically with songs by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.

When acting students originally suggested the theatre department stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Gebhard latched on to the punk/’70s-music esthetic. She thought such an approach would make the oft-performed play enjoyable and accessible for both actors and audience. At the same time, the director is respectful of Shakespeare’s words. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been shortened (two hours with intermission) but the text hasn’t been altered.

Gebhard’s spunky approach to this popular classic appears to reflect her own personality. As a youngster, she was rebellious (or as she puts it: “I was an absolute nightmare child”).

For instance, at age 12, while visiting an aunt in Vancouver from her hometown of Winnipeg, Gebhard covertly ran off to see a performance of the Doors at the Retinal Circus. “I snuck out after midnight. What a ballsy chick,” she said with a grin.

Later, Gebhard got up to more mischief. At age 15, she told her mother she was spending the summer in Edmonton, but secretly spent those months having fun in Toronto (she stayed at the apartment of guitarist David Rea, who played with Ian and Sylvia). By the age of 16, she had left Winnipeg to become an actor in Toronto. At the time, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, hippiedom was in full swing.

“I did underground, in-the-round, audience-participation theatre of the self-indulgent,” Gebhard said.

Later, she became a successful actor, who not only performed in theatre but acted in film and TV (The Chris Isaak Show, Stephen King’s Dead Zone). Gebhard even hosted her own radio and television talk show, Fran’s CULTure Showcase.

She’s more intimately familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream than many, having in the past played such roles as Helena, Titania and Peter Quince.

Gebhard believes her bold and irreverent directorial approach will provide theatregoers with a unique opportunity.

“If people want to see this play with men in tights, they’ll have lots of opportunity to do that. But there’s only one opportunity to see it this way,” she said.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

What: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Where: Phoenix Theatre, University of Victoria

When: Opens 8 p.m. tonight, continues to Nov. 22

Tickets: $16 to $24; 250-721-8000

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