Master of Fine Arts candidate John Zibell seems to do the impossible with UC Davis’ newest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
On the one hand, the actor-writer-director brings clarity to Shakespeare’s fairy-fiend comedy.
On the other, with a six-person cast and video projections, he creates a multilayered interrogation of the subconscious and performative elements of self, sex and love, society and betrayal.
In the end, for this year’s Director’s Showcase from the Department of Theatre and Dance, Zibell offers a sinister but funny adaptation. It is scheduled to open Feb. 24 in the Wyatt Pavilion Theatre.
Zibell’s Midsummer starts in the present but has no particular time frame after that. The play exists in dreamtime, Zibell said, “along the borders separating reality and fantasy, so all eras and all settings are available to us at any given moment.”
In restructuring the play, Zibell radically shortened it. “Much of the cutting has been dictated by my choice to use only a handful of actors to get at the notion of reality reflected in dream and vice versa,” he said. Zibell himself is in the cast.
Zibell explained that he has eliminated much of the poetry that Shakespeare used to evoke the dream world of the fairies and the natural world of the forest. Instead, Zibell said, he uses elaborate video projections with many screens to provide a context for the fairy world and to capture the emanations of protagonist Hermia’s unconscious.
‘Dynamic, vital and dangerously fun’
M.F.A. student Gian Scarabino, the projections designer, said he has enjoyed the challenge of Zibell’s concepts of reality versus representation and cultural cloning.
“What has fascinated me about the Midsummer process is the multiplicity of relationships that can be effectively doubled and mediated by the projected image, projections which become interactive characters themselves,” Scarabino said.
The other designers are Kara Branch, costumes; Kelly Conard, lighting; John Iacovelli, scenery; and Desiree Robles, props.
Zibell described the process of working with Scarabino and the other designers as “dynamic, vital and dangerously fun.” He said he asked each of them to ignore notions of the purity of Shakespeare’s intentions — whatever they might have been.
“We, in essence, set ourselves free to follow any interesting visual preoccupations that came up,” Zibell said. “As a result we’ve stumbled across images, relationships, ideas and events that none of us had ever seen in a play we all know very well.”
Professor Iacovelli called Zibell’s vision “clean, clever, witty and fun.”
Essential character relationships
Zibell’s adaptation, which focuses on essential character relationships, formed the basic framework for the set, Iacovelli said. “John Z started the design process by bringing in some striking images: They were clean and modern, and each had a kinetic energy to them. There was also a translucent quality to them. John has guided us to what I think is a stunning looking production.”
Zibell plays the lead roles of Oberon and Theseus, and M.F.A. acting candidate Avila Reese plays Titania, Hippolyta and Robin Starveling. The other actors are undergraduates: Matthew Dunivan as Lysander and Nick Bottom; John Greer as Demetrius, Egeus and Francis Flute; Allison Minick as Hermia and Peter Quince; and Alison Sundstrom as Helena and Snug.
Zibell has directed himself in several other Shakespeare productions. “The challenges are different each time,” he said, “but mostly have to do with the difficulty of stepping outside the process to watch the other actors.”
The Midsummer crew also includes Jenna Seid, stage manager; and Pamela Orebaugh, video unit production coordinator.
Reporting by Janice Bisgaard, publicity manager for the Department of Theatre and Dance.
He studied acting with Mike Nichols, Paul Sills and George Morrison at the New Actors Workshop in Manhattan, and now Zibell is at UC Davis, pursuing his Master of Fine Arts degree in directing.
He works in New York, and in regional theater and independent film. He appeared in the film The War Within (2005), and he wrote, directed and acted in the film Sex and Violence, recipient of an audience award at 2002's New York International Independent Film and Video Festival (New York), which also honored him for best and directorial debut.
Zibell has been a member of a number of grass-roots theater companies, including Sills and Company and Blue Circle Theater, performing original works. He originated the role of Jimmy Patraglia in Joe Roland's off-Broadway play, On The Line, produced by Nichols.
A professor in the MFA design program in the Department of Theatre and Dance, Iacovelli has designed more than 200 productions at theaters across the nation.
He designed the critically acclaimed, Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby. In 2001, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored Iacovelli with a prime-time Emmy Award for his art direction of the A&E cable network's presentation of Peter Pan.
Other credits: The Twilight of the Golds on Broadway; Harold Pinter's A Slight Ache for Teatro Beckett in Barcelona, Spain; Oedipus in Colonus, directed by Wole Soyinka for the Cultural Olympiad in Delphi, Greece; and, more recently, Warner Theatricals’ Casablanca, a ballet based on the classic film.
He has designed for the Pasadena Playhouse, American Conservatory Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, Magic Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Old Globe Theatre and South Coast Repertory, among others.
He received the 2001 Bob Z Award for Lifetime Achievement in Set Design, presented by the LA Drama Critics Circle, and also has received a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, a Bay Area Drama Critics Circle Award and the Backstage West Garland Award, plus 14n Drama-Logue Awards.
Iacovelli also works in film (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Ruby in Paradise) and television (Ed, Babylon 5, The Cosby Show and Resurrection Blvd.), and films for television (The Book of Daniel, an NBC TV movie starring Aidan Quinn).
He works on the cutting edge of integrated digital art direction and was nominated for the 1997 Excellence in Production Design award from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Art Directors.
Iacovelli holds an MFA in scenic design and art direction from New York University.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this year’s Director’s Showcase
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 24-27, and 2 p.m. Feb. 28
A talk-back session, moderated by Professor Peter Lichtenfels, an expert on Shakespeare, is scheduled after the opening performance.
WHERE: Wyatt Pavilion Theatre
TICKETS are available through the Mondavi Center: (530) 754-2787 or (866) 754-2787, or mondaviarts.org.
DISCOUNT for school and youth groups of 10 or more: $5 per ticket, at the teacher or group leader’s request. To make arrangements for this offer, call the Department of Theatre and Dance, (530) 752-5863.
ADVISORY: This production contains adult language and sexual innuendo.
Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, email@example.com