I waited with 200 or so others behind the velvet rope at the door of Club Oberon. They were letting us 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 bellbottoms.
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. She was tall, wore a mask and knee-high black leather boots, and was completely topless save for tiny butterflies pasted to her breasts. Not even inside the club yet, and shit was already getting interesting.
The white haired man was the club owner, Mr. Oberon (played with chauvinistic flair by Shira Abergel). The woman his diva girlfriend, Tytania (Stephanie Chisholm). And it was here, even before walking into the club, that we 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 Arsht Center through August 12.
For those unfamiliar with the Bard's play, Oberon is the king of the fairies, and Tytania, his wife. The gist of their 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. In The Donkey Show's case, their quarrels affect the music and the discotheque's vibe. And, for the audience in attendance on the makeshift dance floor inside the stripped down Ziff Ballet Opera House, that meant a groovy time kicking it to some of the best disco hits of the 1970s.
The entire evening was a kaleidoscope of decadence and good times. It was hard 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 were flowing, the music was pounding, and all around the festive dancing crowd, the performers put on their rendition of Shakespeare's play. It was as if a play broke out inside a party.
The DJ spun tracks such as YMCA, Ring My Bell, and I Love The Nightlife, all while the actors danced, glided, and ran through the dance floor, acting out the play's central parts with the aid of spotlights and lavalier microphones, while glitter rained down and bubbles floated about the audience dancing the night away.
Shakespeare's plays are filled with sexual overtones and innuendos, probably none more than a play featuring love potions and sexually ambiguous fairies like 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 danced on platforms and swung from aerial straps while the audience got down to Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough.
Directed by Allegra Libonati, who transformed the Arsht into a colorful glittering stardust, The Donkey Show is an amalgam of spectacular performance art and Saturday Night Fever with a pulse. What works for the show is that the male parts (save for the fairies) are all 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, all the men were diminutive and thin, probably from the mountains of blow they did. So women playing the male parts worked. Abergel and Chisholm were highlights not only as Oberon and Tytiana, but also as Mia (Abergel) and Sander (Chisholm).
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The one fault in the show was probably the convoluted way the story was played 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-ass shit. But the Shakespearean pretense is to be left at the velvet ropes outside. This show is all about dancing your ass off and having a great time with a full-on '70s vibe, all while being immersed within a play. The Donkey Show is all together inventive, entertaining and mostly, fun.
A 1970s disco is the perfect place for a modern take on a play like A Midsummer Night's Dream. Music blaring, glitter flying, alcohol flowing, mirror balls spinning, and people getting sweaty and gropey on the dance floor equals a kickass time for all. And then there's the part of the story where Tytania drinks a love potion (well, in this case, it's injected after being cooked in a spoon), which makes her fall in love with a donkey with an afro. And that's as close to Studio 54 circa 1977 as we're ever gonna get.
The Donkey Show runs through August 12 at the Arsht Center (1300 Biscayne Blvd.) VIP table tickets cost $60. Dance floor tickets cost $45. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.