"At the beginning I just had an image of this fat little Puck riding through the
Tuscan countryside on the back of a turtle," says director Michael Hoffman. "The
rest of the film sort of spun out from that."
"in some ways it’s a lot like ‘The Wizard of
Actually, the inspiration for Hoffman’s desire to write his screen adaptation of
Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" came from a performance of
the play, in which he played Lysander. This production was staged with other dissidents
from his university theater department in Boise, Idaho. A few years later, while studying
theater at Oxford, he directed another production of the play that led to his first offer
to direct a film.
Today, the company Hoffman and his friends started in Boise is building a $3 million
theater, and he has just completed his eighth film. Little wonder that it should be an
adaptation of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." "I’ve always felt
there was a blessing for me in this play," he says.
Producer Leslie Urdang is the founder of New York Stage and Film, a distinguished
Manhattan production and workshop center where many members of the cast -- Calista
Flockhart, David Strathairn, Roger Rees, Bill Irwin and Sam Rockwell -- have performed. As
a child, Urdang herself danced the role of a fairy in the 1966 film of George
Ballanchine’s ballet based on the play. Urdang observes that "A Midsummer
Night’s Dream," a perennial favorite for school productions, is the one
Shakespeare play everyone seems to know.
"Everyone you talk to seems to have played a character
"Everyone you talk to seems to have played a character in it," she says,
"whether it’s an actor or your dentist who did it at kindergarten or summer
camp. It’s the one you can bring your kids to -- in some ways it’s a lot like
‘The Wizard of Oz.’"
Shakespeare had originally set his story in an English version of ancient Greece where
Elizabethan spectators would have felt right at home. Looking for a setting closer in time
for a contemporary audience, while keeping the highly formal aristocratic culture in which
it takes place, Hoffman decided to transport the story to Tuscany, a part of Italy he
knows well, at the turn of the century.
"It’s the beginning of the end of the high collars and bustles, a certain
loosening up of the culture," says Urdang. "The bicycle, which plays a part in
Michael’s script, was a relatively recent invention which also brought a new kind of
freedom to travel without being shut up in a coach."
"Besides that, the setting is Italy, where the civilized culture is smack up
against a passion for food, the love of the countryside, and of all the more natural
elements of the world," adds Urdang.
"So when we go into the forest, all the clothes come off," Anna Friel sums up
succinctly. The centerpiece for the wild night in the forest are the scenes between
Titania and Bottom, where Hoffman found his film’s emotional core.
"Bottom is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comic
inventions," Kevin Kline
"Bottom is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comic inventions," says Kevin
Kline. "He’s the paradigm for all ham actors -- he wants to play all the parts,
and he thinks he’s God’s gift to theater. Actually, there’s a little bit of
Bottom in everyone who has ever stood on a stage. It’s a dream role for actors
because they can get in touch with that childish love of make-believe that motivates any
"But Bottom also has the soul of an artist," adds Kline. "He loves to
escape the reality he’s in, to discover something more noble and more beautiful about
himself" -- which the character achieves through his tryst with Titania, the Queen of
"Michael made the love story between Bottom and Titania very different from what
it has been before," says Urdang. "In his version, Bottom really falls in love
"What if Bottom, as the king of amateur dramatics, has delusions of grandeur about
himself as an actor because he doesn’t have any love in his life?," proposes
Hoffman. "So I started to build a story for him -- a frustrating life and an unhappy
"Writing the adaptation with Kevin in mind, Michael made him a type of Italian
character that Marcello Mastroianni might have played," Urdang says, "a man who
reclaims his dignity from a deeper place in himself that he finds through love."
"The relationship with Bottom is very liberating for
her (Titania) in its simplicity." Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer points out that Titania, too, is experiencing marital strife, and
this makes her passion for Bottom more understandable. "Titania and Oberon are King
and Queen," she says, "so they have different rules to live by than Titania and
Bottom do. I think that the relationship with Bottom is very liberating for her in its