“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” opening on Thursday, April 5, at Seaver Theatre, takes a distinctive approach to William Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers and meddling fairies. Directed by Carolyn Ratteray, the production is a gender-bending comedy with a hip hop sensibility, set in an urban landscape, where trees and grass grow through broken concrete.

For Ratteray, hip hop and spoken word, just like Shakespeare’s plays, are forms of poetry that are meant to be heard.

“I initially didn’t know what to do with the play’s references to music, song and dance,” says Ratteray, assistant professor of theatre and dance at Pomona. “When I thought more about Titania and Oberon and the battle raging in the natural world, it made sense that one dance had to be a battle between the two rival fairy crews. That decision set the play within a framework of hip hop.”

The themes of love and power in Midsummer also resonated with Ratteray, who says there are a “myriad of ways to view the story.”

Two actors stand facing each other.

“I gravitated toward this interpretation partly because of what fascinates me now and because of who I am, and how my queer, African American, cisgendered female identities influence my eyes, ears and heart,” she says.

The cast features 27 students from The Claremont Colleges, including several actors who are performing in their first mainstage production at Pomona College. Making their debut on the Seaver stage are Pitzer first-year student Maya Barbon and Pomona junior Gbeke Fawehinmi, who play the lovers Hermia and Lysander as a queer couple, forced to flee to the woods to escape the oppression of the court.

“The woods are the most alive place in this world and reflect the powerful and magical way that nature breaks through barriers to endure, survive and transform,” says Ratteray. “The graffiti on the set also acts as a symbol of that reclamation and transformation.” 

And while there is no tidy resolution for many of the characters, Ratteray says that, in the end, “the old ways of being and doing have shifted. Midsummer is a play soaked in wonder and beauty. It is a complex world, full of light and dark desires, but it is a play where the magic of love and creation reclaims all in the end.”

Performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be held at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 5 through Saturday, April 7, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 8, at the Seaver Theatre (300 E. Bonita Ave., Claremont). Tickets are $11 general admission and $6 for students, faculty, staff and seniors.