Going to watch Yohangza’s adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was like walking into a foggy forest, not unlike the one that the main characters had to navigate through. We knew how the forest was supposed to look, but didn’t know what was hiding within the fog. It turns out the fog was hiding a treasure trove of wonder and excitement.
The audience was first presented with a fun, short skit asking the
audience to follow common courtesies. They were then lead Dokkebi twins, Duduri as the character Puck split in two into the show by the Dokkebi, or the goblin creatures that are Yohangza’s faeries, running down the aisles and onto the stage while singing. Unlike most plays and even adaptations of Shakespeare, the actors of Yohangza constantly broke the fourth wall, with the Dokkaebi engaging directly with the audience, either by trying to scare them or throwing glow-in-the-dark bracelets at them.
The play itself simplified the complex sequence of events in the original play by focusing on the four lovers, renamed Hang (Lysander), Beok (Hermia), Loo (Demetrius) and Ik (Helena), and the conflict between the Dokkebi Queen Dot and King Gabi, with Dokkebi twins Duduri (Puck split into twins) adding mischief and an old woman Ajumi (Bottom) getting caught up in the Dokkebi’s mischiefs. All the characters were played by a cast of nine people, with many of them doubling up as extra Dokkebis or playing traditional Korean instruments in the back to produce live sound effects and music. The entire play was in Korean, with English speckled in intermittently throughout mainly for humor, but there were English subtitles displayed on a screen onstage.
Humor and stunts were also a vital part of the play and added in every scene, making the audience laugh with every line and action. The scene that best displayed the interplay of humor and stunts was the fight scene between the four lovers, where in slow motion, the characters were pulling off flying kicks while being carried by other actors or getting hit and flown dramatically across the stage.
Additionally, Yohangza’s rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of many adaptations performed throughout the world. While Shakespeare wrote according to sixteenth-century conventions, his works leave plenty of room for interpretation. The universality his heroes embody allow for various cultures to reimagine both the characters and their worlds as they see fit. In the visiting troupe’s case, the beloved tale of mixed-up love affairs takes on a more feminist twist – with Korean- style humor to boot. At the heart of the play, love, lust, and suppressed desire contest with one another. At the heart of the play is the human heart.
Shakespeare utilizes the framework of Carnival, or the Green World in order to explore his cast’s innermost desires. In other words, interactions with the fairies – or the demon/goblin creatures, Dokkaebi – give the human characters “permission” to act outside of societal norms. This concept extends to the audience as well. During Yohangza’s performance, the actors did well to uphold the mischievous spirit of the play. Their running up and down the theatre aisles and throwing gifts to the audience reflected the very caprice of the four lovers. While Hang, Beok, Loo, and Ik believe their shared misadventure to be nothing but a dream, real- life changes do take place. From a global standpoint, the medium of performance is ideal for addressing one’s own take on comedy and tragedy. Although Shakespeare’s themes are universal, each culture has a distinct means to employing the language that made him so famous. The Yohangza group ties this language into their poignant dancing and musical numbers. To be honest, we found ourselves more enraptured with the performers’ physical presence than their translated script. However, the combination of the two is what allows the true magic of the play to happen. It is this global power that has allowed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and other plays to transcend their respective zeitgeist and into a realm of limitless possibilities.
Needless to say, Yohangza’s wonderful rendition will be on our minds for a long time.