There have been many a twist in staging a Shakespeare play, but none so mammoth or provocative as the latest incarnation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” opening Tuesday at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre.
Beyond the multicultural troupe of 23 performers set to take the stage, Shakepeare’s revered comedic tale — directed by Tim Supple in its North American premiere — is infused with so many bold elements, it’s hard to keep track.
Dance, martial arts, musicians and street acrobats from across India and Sri Lanka are but a few creative tweaks found in this re-imagined “Dream.” And, while it’s performed in English, it also incorporates Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali and Marathi. There’s even a bit of Sanskrit tossed into the mix.
Supple first staged the work to winning ends in 2006 at outdoor arenas in India and the Verona Festival in Italy. He says the immense undertaking wasn’t as daunting as it was “hugely demanding, all-consuming and, ultimately, rather exhausting.”
The idea to create a multicultural, if not more lavish, “Dream” began in 2004 when the British Council in India and Sri Lanka commissioned Supple to envision, then direct a new touring production. At the heart of the work is a rare attention to detail. In addition to working with stellar actors, Supple had to ensure all the other creative elements were woven into a realistic theatrical tapestry.
“That’s the nature of Indian theater, in which the three fundamental qualities of theater — acting, music and dance — are still intertwined,” he says. “It’s a finely-tuned balance of seriousness, humor, realism and imagination.”
The production also promises to deliver enough of an urban “edge” that will resonate with younger audiences.
Supple has always leaned toward the unconventional. When he was a child, he was more drawn to creating theater himself, at home, than in “glamorous”playhouses, he says, “mainly because it was vastly more intimate, playful and a bare pleasure for me.”
He appreciates theater that is stripped of trappings, pretensions and habits.
Essentially, Supple found all that in Indian theater, which he says lacks the resources found in London, but retains a connection with the roots of theater, as practiced in “courtyards and clearings.”
“‘Dream’ has been a journey of discovery away from the distractions of the theater ‘profession’ and towards a more immediate, visceral and essential experience of theater,” he says.
IF YOU GO
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; closes June 1
Tickets: $35 to $80
Contact: (415) 512-7770 or www.shnsf.com