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Shakespeare Meets the Sixties at Westfield

Westfield High's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is not your father's Shakespeare. Featuring a cast of 40 and crew of 25, this comedy about mistaken identities and unrequited love is set in the 1960s and is bursting with that period's music, clothing and mod, psychedelic energy.

Shows are Friday-Saturday, Nov. 12-13, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 in advance, $8 at the door, and on sale, Nov. 8-12, during school lunches. Or call 703-488-6430 for reservations.

"The audience is going to enjoy it a lot because this interpretation of Shakespeare is more literal and easy to understand," said senior Megan Meadows, who plays an Amazon queen named Hippolyta. "The costumes, lights, music — and the whole idea of the '60s — is going to blow people away."

PLAYING THE lovers are Ben Mattox, 17, as Lysander, and Natalie McLarty, 16, as Hermia. And in this case, life imitated art, because they became a real-life couple after working together in the play.

"[Director Scott] Pafumi is the spawn of Cupid," said Mattox. "He cast us together before we started dating," added McLarty.

In the show, though, the course of true love is anything but smooth. "Lysander and Hermia want to get married, but Hermia's father wants her to marry Demetrius," explained McLarty. "Hermia's best friend Helena is in love with Demetrius, but he doesn't love her. And the duke says we can't get married."

"So we run away to the woods," said Mattox. "We tell Helena, she tells Demetrius and they both follow us. The fairies see that Demetrius doesn't love Helena, so they [mistakenly] cast a spell on Lysander so he'll fall in love with the first person he sees when he wakes up. Helena wakes him up, he falls in love with her and they run away."

When the fairies realize their mistake, they put a spell on Demetrius, and he, too, falls in love with Helena. "There's a big fight and, eventually, the fairies realize they messed up," said McLarty. "They fix everything so the right people fall in love with each other."

Mattox loves playing Lysander. "He's Marlon Brando-esque — good-looking, well-built, a ladies' man," said Mattox. "The hardest part is getting Helena and Hermia's names correct, but the best part is being romantic with Hermia."

McLarty said Hermia can be "air-headed, but knows what she wants and is used to being the pretty and popular one. So she has a hard time dealing with it when her world comes crashing down and nobody helps her. [But] I feel a connection with the character and like finding new levels in her."

DALLAS SWEEZY, 16, describes his Demetrius as a "preppy, Harvard/Yale graduate who's slimy and a suck-up to the parents. But he's also a hurt lover who finds true love in the end." His personality changes throughout the play, but he likes "experimenting with new ideas and emotions in the character's portrayal."

As Helena, Ashley Dillard, 16, is "goofy, insecure and lonely. The man she loves rejects her, and she envies Hermia's perfect little life." But it's fun playing her because "she's loud and emotional with lots of movement. I get to let loose and don't have to hold anything back."

Senior Michelle Murgia plays queen fairy Titania who's fighting with the sprite Oberon (Mario Ibarra) in the forest. So Titania hangs out with the girl fairies who are go-go dancers. "We're playful, fun, carefree creatures," said Murgia. "But Titania's also motherlike and caring."

"Later on, because I'm under a spell, I fall in love with Bottom, a mortal who's been turned into a donkey," she said. She's also choreographing some numbers with Megan Meadows and Tara Mitchell. "We're dancing to 'Hair,' 'Crimson and Clover' and 'Come Together,'" said Murgia. "The music really adds a lot to this show."

Junior Barry Armbruster plays Theseus, the duke. He's all set to happily marry Hippolyta when Hermia's father demands that Theseus force Hermia to marry Demetrius. "Theseus tells her she has to marry Demetrius or face death or become a nun," said Armbruster. "This leads Hermia and Lysander to run away."

Armbruster's says his character has a "big presence" and controls his destiny: "He's well-liked by his people and is like JFK — all is well in his kingdom and he wants his 'Camelot' to be perfect."

PORTRAYING Hippolyta is Megan Meadows, 17. "She's one of the strongest women's characters in the play," she said. "She comes from an all-woman's colony in the Amazon. She's marrying Theseus because her women got defeated by Theseus in a war and she was the prize. At first, she's reluctant to marry him, but then he woos her. My character goes from a crazed, warrior woman to a Jackie O. type."

Junior Branson Reese portrays Nicholas Bottom who "is a bit of a slob and has a big ego — illusions of grandeur. Puck turns his head into a donkey's head because Bottom behaves like [a jackass]. His player friends desert him, but he's oblivious to the fact that he has a donkey's head. He thinks he's gorgeous."

Reese likes his role's "broad, physical, burlesque, rude comedy" and says "Shakespeare's not that difficult to understand and [director] Pafumi has made some creative choices — like including "hippies" and a '60s setting — that the audience will love. I think, if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be a Pafumi fan — and really old."

As mischievous fairy-sprite Puck, Ariel Herman, 16, does Oberon's dirty work. "I'm the one who confuses the lovers' relationships," she confessed. Herman also likes "hanging out with seven guys" — the other sprites — and says this play makes Shakespeare more familiar "because of the catchy, '60s' tunes and high energy."