Julie Taymor has made films of plays she’s directed, including movies of “Titus Andronicus” and “The Tempest.” But for her 2013 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which inaugurated Brooklyn’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center, she wound up simply shooting the play itself. It’s a minimalist approach for a minimalist production, and a far cry from the plagued “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” fiasco that preceded it. Thing is, Taymor says she actually prefers the simple movie she made than she did putting it on live.
With “Titus,” you made the case that “Titus Andronicus,” sometimes called Shakespeaere’s worst play, was actually one of his best. Along similar lines, it seems with your production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” you were making a less controversial claim that it was not light but deceptively light.
I would say “deceptively light” is a good way of putting it. In fact it begins with [laughs] Theseus saying he raped someone and is going to wed her. What a good writer does is he starts a comedy with tragedy, or starts with the darkest thing that could possibly happen, so the only place to go is up. What Shakespeare does is he doesn’t have something be one thing or another. This is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy. Love affairs and relationships and marriages are failing apart, right and left, all over this one night. Everything is topsy-turvy. He deals with the beautiful and negative travails of love. It’s really an investigation of love and lust and betrayal and innocence.
What did you particularly want to tease out of the play that productions rarely or never tease out?
I don’t think they take these relationships seriously enough. I think the Oberon-Titania marriage, which has gone on for hundreds of years, tells you so much about marriage. How do you keep that strong over time? Then you have this incredible thing where Demetrius loves Helena, but as soon as another girl comes along, with more dowry and who is prettier, he dumps the one he’s right for. He follows through on all their fantasies, all their insecurities, before the marriage the next day. This play was created to honor a wedding. My film puts it all out there.
Kathryn, who plays Puck, was the first person you cast. Did you always intend a female Puck?
It doesn’t matter, male or female. It’s Kathryn Hunter. It’s her talent. I had seen Kathryn 10 years before in a Caryl Churchill play at the National. I thought, this woman can do anything with her body, with her voice. She can be male, female, 10 years old, 100 years old. She’s the only female I know who’s done King Lear. Kathryn really made it make sense to me. Puck is a shape-changer. Puck becomes a horse, becomes a bear; Puck is whatever. I even had her play the old man in the end.