African-American Shakes is having a late summer Midsummer Carnival

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Lysander (Ryan Marchand) and Hermia (Antonette Bracks) lose their way in the forest in the African-American Shakespeare Company’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” playing through Oct. 1st in San Francisco. (Photo by Jay Yamada)

There are plenty of significant marriages that are being worked out in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And for San Francisco’s African-American Shakespeare Company, the marriage of the show’s plot with its concept might be the funnest wedding of all.

The zany story of fantastical fairies, unrequited love and a play by rude mechanicals is being set in the Carnival world of Trinidad and Tobago in the company’s latest production that kicks off their 2017-2018 season, now playing through Oct. 1st. It’s a concept that director Sherri Young believes can bring one of Shakespeare’s greatest and best-aged comedies to the peak of joy.

The road towards that peak will be loaded with conga lines, popcorn in the audience, 14 puppets, plenty of Carnival costumes and some delicious samba music. The production also features some great local ties, incorporating Oakland’s SambaFunk! artistic director Theo Williams and his Caribbean-inspired choreography.

Young, the executive director and founder of the company, was searching for an interesting direction for “Midsummer,” when she asked Trinidad native and artistic director L. Peter Callender to read some lines in his Trinidadian accent. The concept of the Antebellum south has been done, and there was no desire to do a play that focused on a post-apocalyptic world either.

Enter the world of Carnival.

“When he read it, I said ‘Oh yeah, that works,’” said Young. “With Carnival, anything can happen and there is a magical, mystical element. It’s also a whole lot of fun.”

Young is not shy in stating that so much of the fun of this production is tied into Callender. For Young, Callender embodies the spirit of venerable character Nick Bottom, a character who turns his simple occupation as a weaver into an actor capable of playing every role in Pyramus and Thisby, the play within the play that will be performed for a royal wedding. Bottom goes from a simple mechanical to the object of the fairy queen’s desires, despite his new identity as an ass.

“Peter reminds me so much of Bottom, because he loves to play and wants to get up on stage and show actors how to do it,” said Young. “It didn’t take long for Peter to recognize we were doing him in the rehearsal process.”

“Midsummer” is one of the most highly produced of Shakespeare’s plays, most certainly one of his top comedies. A plethora of humor styles, from refined word play to broad, physical comedy, “Midsummer” offers plenty of laughs with plenty of heart. It’s a play that is incredibly relatable for reasons that are clear to Young.

“We can definitely relate to having crushes and having mad feelings, and then having them not want us,” said Young. “We have people not understanding your true love, we fight with our best friends, and we can relate to all of that.”

Young has had a blast directing this play, a show she has seen many times but is producing with the company for the first time. And with the company of her artistic director and a cast she has the utmost confidence in, the time for such a varied “Midsummer” has arrived.

“One of my biggest wishes in life is to direct something and have Peter tell me, ‘there’s nothing I can add to this,’” said Young. “Even though Shakespeare has rules and guidelines, it’s alright to go beyond the lines.

“Sometimes we forget to give ourselves permission to try something different and to experiment. That’s what I’m learning in doing this production.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

The African-American Shakespeare Company presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Sherri Young
Through Oct. 1st
The Taube Atrium Theatre
401 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco, CA
Tickets are $30
For tickets and info, visit www.african-americanshakes.org

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