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Review: Shakespeare gets ‘Ravished’ at Theater Emory

Shakespeare’s traditionally whimsical fantasy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” becomes something of a nightmare in Theater Emory’s “Ravished.” Conceived and directed by Ariel Fristoe and Maia Knispel, Emory alums and co-founders of Atlanta’s experimental Out of Hand Theater, the show retains the Bard’s basic plot outline and some of his original language to concoct an abridged 75-minute version of events that offers a dark and twisted interpretation of the classic text.

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At first sight, the luminous Carolyn Cook appears in a flowing, shimmering white gown and haloed headdress, in the newly created role of an omnipresent Moon. Standing above it all atop a platform on designer Sara Culpepper’s sparse set, she orchestrates and oversees the action — with a little help from another new character, Cupid (Jake Krakovsky), the dart-wielding pixie who stands in for the now-excised Puck.

But as the darkness quickly descends on “Ravished,” the Moon’s glowing smile understandably turns to disapproving frown. The romantic passion and lighthearted antics of the sundry mismatched lovers, forest fairies and “rude mechanicals” in “Midsummer” here unfold with a much more unsavory kinkiness and literal bluntness, enough so to warrant an advisory in the program about “sexually violent content” intended “for mature audiences.”

Aside from Cook’s glamorous getup, in Alan Yeong’s steam punk-inspired costume design, most of the other characters look as though they stepped out of a “Road Warrior” movie. Brent Glenn’s lighting is suitably stark and arresting, casting shadows across the stage or silhouettes of trees against the black curtains lining the back of the set.

Particularly curious in view of its already pared down running time, “Ravished” also features a disproportionate number of superfluous musical interludes — bits and pieces or whole dance routines, choreographed by Jasmine Spells to the pulsating rhythms of several current pop songs and club hits.

Fristoe and Knispel’s energetic and adventurous cast includes a half-dozen or so Emory students, in addition to a few professional actors. Among the former: Jubril Adeagbo (as Theseus), Gabrielle Bodet (Votaress), Julia Byrne (Helena), Amina Dunn (Hermia), Saumya Goel (Hippolyta), Jessica Le-McKeown (Titania), Christian Magby (Demetrius) and Jake Thompson (Lysander).

Among the latter: Joe Sykes cuts a weirdly leering and creepy figure as Oberon; Stephanie Friedman and especially Brad Brinkley are seen to better advantage as Flute and Bottom, whose climactic performance of the play within the play, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” may be the bloodiest yet.

It is a signature of Out of Hand to approach material from far outside and well beyond conventional theatrical boundaries. Most of the company’s projects are originally written and created, as opposed to adaptations or renditions of previously existing works.

In visualizing Shakespeare’s words about the “anguish of a tormented hour” or a “night of solemnities,” the disturbing imagery and psychosexual emphasis of “Ravished” isn’t entirely groundless, even if it is generally off-putting. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” the Moon aptly intones. But when she paraphrases one of Puck’s most famous lines — “If we offend, it is with good will” — you might not buy it.

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