Nick Cearley's Puckish Take on His Role in A Midsummer Night's Dream
The new Masterworks Theater production of the Shakespeare favorite opens June 11 at the 47th Street Theatre.
I am convinced that Robin Goodfellow, a.k.a. Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, is the very first gay stoner written for the stage. But more on that in a minute.
When I was 18 and auditioning for theater conservatories, I sang showtunes and did a Shakespeare monologue. I was obsessed with the clown's soliloquy from Henry V. And it seemed to win me scholarships. But doing Shakespeare for the first time on a New York stage is something else altogether.
I find it challenging much in the same way that learning to play a new instrument is. It helps that I am a serious "word person." I love anagrams and puns and playing with anything involving language, so saying lines that are not necessarily the most natural sentences is tons of fun. Trying not to hit the rhyme of a verse is also a great workout. That kind of concentration keeps me alert and in a specific brain-zone. The fact that Midsummer has all the beautiful language and humor of Shakespeare's best as well as a healthy dose of sarcasm really helped me find my way in.
The cast of this Midsummer sat around a table with the director for 10 days before we even got on our feet so that we would be absolutely 100 percent clear of every single beat. Knowing what everyone else is saying is just as important, since so much of Shakespeare involves listening for long stretches of time without speaking — especially with Puck. I was surprised how, beneath the rich language, there is such a simple story. It's a land with mortals and non-mortals. So, the rules are: There are no rules.
Puck is one of the best-known Shakespearean characters, right up there with Romeo, Juliet, and Hamlet. Iconic actors have played the role on film (Mickey Rooney, Stanley Tucci), and he is usually presented as charming yet mischievous. Since he's generally thought of as a prankster or jester, it is hard not to go that route and play it very generally. But I was curious about something else: How did he get that way? There is a very common misperception that his antics are all about playing tricks and f*cking everything up. But there has to be a reason behind it all. In the text, I was surprised to learn that Puck justifies all his messes to just mistakes and miscommunication. In other words, not his fault.
This guy is a f*ckup with too many things on his plate. He seems to pride himself on getting things done quickly as opposed to double-checking his work. In fact, he makes a mistake every single time he is given an assignment from his boss and possible boyfriend, Oberon, because he truly thinks he did everything correctly and according to plan.
This is why I have decided he is clearly a stoner. He lives in the forest, he's curious about nature and herbs and inventive with his time, and he's started smoking what he finds around him, living in a perpetual state of highness. So, when he is told to apply a love potion to the eyes of a man wearing Athenian garments, he assumes the first one he sees is the only possible Athenian in the woods and therefore must be the guy. Why would there be more than one?
For this production specifically, Puck plays a lot of songs on his little electric ukulele. I wrote all the incidental music, so I infused it with the idea that Puck has told this story, mistakes and all, and the songs are his interpretation. Almost like the E! True Hollywood Story of Robin Goodfellow. He's the narrator, so of course he is going to portray himself in the best possible light. Midsummer is not a musical, but the sounds and music play a large role in the telling of it. And as Puck's last monologue states bluntly that if we the actors have offended you in the way this story has been told, just think of it all as a dream. Because that's all it was.