“It doesn’t take a man to play the role of Bottom,” says veteran actor Susan Wefel, who is playing one of Shakespeare’s most ridiculous fools. “It can be a woman.”
Wefel is a graduate of The School of Theater at Boston University and is a 38-year veteran actor and company member of Hedgerow Theatre. In her time, she has studied under Dolores Tanner, Rose Schulman, Janet Kelsey, Louis Lippa, and Penelope Reed. In Delaware County, she is known for her critically acclaimed Shirley Valentine as well as her hilarious performances in summer farces such as No Sex Please, We’re British at Hedgerow Theatre.
She returns to Hedgerow after several performances with the Media Theater in The Addams Family, Les Miserables, Billy Elliot (winner of Broadway World Award 2016 for Best Supporting Actress of Philadelphia for portrayal of Grandma), To Kill a Mockingbird, Side Show, and Romeo and Juliet.
Nick Bottom is an infamous character, traditionally performed by a man, who provides much of the comic relief throughout Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with actors such as James Cagney and Kevin Kline taking up the foolhardy ass on film. It is likely that Shakespeare intended the role to be a “show-off” piece for one of his favorite actors, as the role includes singing, dancing, and making the audience laugh.
“With all Shakespeare, especially with Bottom, the language is poetic and the stories are beautiful. . . . Every generation should be exposed to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” said Wefel. “It’s Romeo and Juliet but with a twist–everything ends happily. . . . These are characters so full of themselves that their arrogance turns into foolish stupidity.”
Ask anyone who knows Wefel, and you’ll be told that Bottom is a perfect part for her. Wefel has been an performer all her life, working at Hedgerow for nearly her entire professional career.
Bottom fancies himself quite the actor, and is confident in his talent, believing he can play any role, and even all roles, in Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within a play in Midsummer. We quickly realize this confidence is misplaced, however, and Bottom is nothing more than a blow-hard.
Wefel never thought she would play this part. Previously she had performed Hermia with Greg Wood’s Lysander and also Titania, Queen of the Fairies. “I enjoy the theatricality of Bottom, who is a person wanting to be constantly in the spotlight, and I’m having a ball!” she says. “And I’m learning there’s no reason why a woman can’t play it, nor why a woman shouldn’t play it.”
Although Bottom is a classic Shakespearean clown, he is also the character who keeps the audience focused on the central theme of the play: the difference between dream and reality. He keeps the actors focused on the central question of the audience’s gullibility, going so far as to ask Peter Quince, played by Zoran Kovcic, to write a prologue explaining that Pyramus is not really dead, but is merely an actor playing the part of Pyramus, namely Bottom.
“Every production you see of Midsummer is different. In this one, our ensemble is working very tightly together with our director, Aaron Cromie. We’ve replaced the floor with gym mats, and the movement alone is worth the watch. It’s certainly the most unique version of Midsummer I’ve been a part of,” said Wefel.
This idea is furthered when Bottom returns to reality from fantasy. The normally verbose Bottom cannot find the words to express his dream. He is moved, rather, to ask Quince to write a ballad, believing verse can capture what prose cannot. Bottom believes in the power of art to transform, thus allowing Shakespeare to validate the vision of the artist.
“It’s not a question of male/female in the case of casting Bottom.… We felt she was a great choice for the role because she brings to it all of the enthusiasm, joy, comedy and hope that Bottom requires,” said Cromie. “In 38 years as a company member, Sue has seen a lot of outrageous personalities come across the stage, and can relate to the desire to perform ‘a role of a lifetime’ — like Bottom plays Pyramus. She has great comic energy and is having tremendous fun in creating the character.”
Cromie, the director of the Barrymore Recommended Or, and the critically acclaimed commedia dell’arte The Servant of Two Masters, has chosen to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cast of only six actors in a gender-bending style that brings all the slapstick comedy to life.
“It’s a lot of fun, and we’ve managed to find creative ways to interpret the text to tell a fresh version of the story. Nearly everyone gets to pay Puck at some point, and we think the audience will enjoy the many transformations of each actor,” said Cromie.
Philadelphia actor Madalyn St. John, Clarice in The Servant of Two Masters, returns to play a “bucket-list role” Hermia, among others, and company members Allison Bloechl, Mark Swift, and Josh Portera tackle the rest of the roles, sharing the wily Robin Goodfellow “Puck.”
With just six actors, the Hedgerow company seeks to create all the myth and magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By employing the tools and tricks of commedia dell’arte and theatre magic, the cast is primed to bring the illogical and sensual nature of the play to life.
All tickets are $20. Tours begin May 12 and are available for bookings, Opening night is May 26, and the show closes June 11. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change. For reservations or more info, call 610-565-4211 or visit HedgerowTheatre.org. Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).