I’ve been blessed to know many, many extremely funny women in my life, so the lack of comedic opportunities for females has always felt like a slap in the face. From humorous interp scripts in high school to sitcoms, girls have only recently been allowed to be what I call “ugly-funny”: funny without regards to keeping with gender roles, funny in a weird-face-making, unladylike way (see: Tammy: A Coming of Age Story About a Girl Who Is Part T-Rex and Broad City). With this up-and-coming trend in comedy, we all know my first instinct is to slap it on a Shakespeare play. So with that in mind, let’s revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I’ve already mentioned more than once that the dearth of female roles in Shakespeare keeps me up at night, and the solution is simply to forget about gender entirely when it comes to casting. That’s the principle I have in mind for Midsummer. In particular, I have it in mind for one group of characters that have the potential to bust audience’s guts even if nothing else has worked: the mechanicals. The mechanicals, in my own mind, are the “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” plotline; they have nothing to do with the lovers, and only run into the fairies’ quarrel when Nick Bottom happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even then, it’s just Bottom that gets dragged into it. So, in many senses, they are their own self-contained comedy; after all, they’re putting on a play(-within-a-play). The mechanicals’ play then becomes a playground for comedic actors to flaunt their craft. How better to show off female comedy in a theatrically safe setting?
As we know by now, I also try to include some sort of plot justification for my casting choices. For Midsummer, this is particularly fun because the reason is this: nothing has to make sense. Midsummer is about a night where things go weird and sideways and wrong in a number of increasingly ridiculous ways (running away to the woods to being drugged by a fairy); even the notion of the mechanicals themselves putting on a play is meant to be ridiculous. Making them female is just whipped cream on top of the most lavish sundae ever made. Building on that: the mechanicals are meant to be unlikely candidates for the theatre. It then adds a nice jab of both satire and a bit of cruelty to make them women; are we saying that women are an unlikely fit for theatre? For comedy? Oops, did we just become self-aware? As is always my goal, we’ve then gone beyond just showing off the talent of the previously un-shown, and entered into a bit of commentary, should the audience want to dissect it that far.
As mentioned in my last Midsummer post, the play itself is deeply about love. But another of its recurrent themes is boldness: Hermia bold enough to stand up to her father, Oberon bold enough to demand the Indian boy, the mechanicals bold enough to put on a play. Women in comedy are by nature bold. Thus, it’s not a misstep to capitalize on them in Midsummer.