The Donkey Show at the Arsht Is a Midsummer Night's Groove Thang
About 200 people waited behind the velvet rope at the entrance of Club Oberon. Bouncers were letting them in a handful at a time. A few of those who came to shake their groove thang were dressed for the occasion — platform shoes, giant sunglasses, Afro wigs, glittery shorts, feathered boas, and plaid bell-bottoms.
Outside the club doors, a petite, white-haired, mustachioed man in a white suit and red tie got into a shouting match with his woman. Wearing a mask and knee-high black leather boots, she was tall and topless except for butterflies pasted to her nipples. Not even inside the club yet, and shit was already getting interesting.
The white-haired man was the club's owner, Mr. Oberon (played with chauvinistic flair by Shira Abergel), and the woman his diva girlfriend, Tytania (Stephanie Chisholm). And it was here, even before entering the club, that partiers/theatergoers got to see the beginnings of Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner's The Donkey Show, a 1970s Studio 54-like take on William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, playing at the Adrienne Arsht Center through August 12.
For those unfamiliar with the Bard's play, Oberon is the king of the fairies, and Titania is his wife. The gist of the story is their fight over the fate of one of their children and how their quarrels affect the weather in the forest and the star-crossed lovers who cavort within it.
In The Donkey Show's case, their arguments affect the music selection and the discotheque's vibe. And for the audience on the makeshift dance floor inside the stripped-down Ziff Ballet Opera House, that means a groovy time kicking it to some of the best disco hits of the '70s.
The entire evening is a kaleidoscope of decadence and good times. It's difficult not to get sucked into the vortex of spinning mirror balls and dancing glamour boys doused in glitter and wearing tight short shorts. The drinks flow, the music pounds, and throughout the festive crowd, the performers deliver their rendition of Shakespeare's theatrical work. It's as if a play has broken out inside a party.
While the DJ spins tracks such as "YMCA," "Ring My Bell," and "I Love the Nightlife," the actors dance, glide, and dash across the dance floor, acting out the play's central parts with the aid of spotlights and lavaliere microphones. Meanwhile, glitter and bubbles float about the audience, dancing the night away.
Shakespeare's plays are filled with sexual overtones and innuendo, probably none more so than his comedy featuring love potions and sexually ambiguous fairies such as Puck — played here as Dr. Wheelgood by Luis Cuevas, sporting a winged hat and roller skates. Instead of frolicking through the woods, however, these fairies dance on platforms and swing from aerial straps while the audience gets down to Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough."
Directed by Allegra Libonati, who has transformed the opera house into a colorful, pulsating club, The Donkey Show is an amalgam of spectacular performance art and Saturday Night Fever. What works for the show is that the male parts, save for the fairies, are played by women (amazing what a fake mustache and good acting chops can do). In all the footage from the '70s I've ever seen, men were diminutive and thin, probably from the mountains of blow they did. So women playing the male parts is apropos. Abergel and Chisholm are highlights not only as Oberon and Tytiana, but also as Mia and Sander.
The show's one fault is probably the convoluted way the story plays out. If you walk into The Donkey Show not knowing A Midsummer Night's Dream, the whole thing will seem like some seriously nonsensical, trippy shit. But the Shakespearean pretense is to be left at the velvet rope. Here, it's all about dancing your ass off and having fun while being immersed in an inventive, entertaining play.
A '70s disco is the perfect place for a modern take on a play such as A Midsummer Night's Dream. Music blaring, glitter flying, alcohol flowing, mirror balls spinning, and people sweating and groping on the dance floor equals a kick-ass time. Then there's the part where Tytania drinks a love potion (well, in this case, it's injected after being cooked in a spoon) that makes her fall for a donkey with an Afro. And that's as close to Studio 54 circa 1977 as we'll ever get.
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