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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

About The Production
"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

"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."

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 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 our kids to -- in some ways it's a lot like 'The Wizard of Oz.'"

When Hoffman and Urdang started talking about filming "A Midsummer Night's Dream" more than two years ago, they discovered that they had similar casting ideas. Urdang felt Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline would be ideal for the film version, while Hoffman had been talking to Kline since they worked together on "Soapdish." After directing Pfeiffer opposite George Clooney in "One Fine Day," Hoffman told Urdang that he agreed with her. "Who could be better than Michelle Pfeiffer," he says, "with her acting talent and extraordinarily ethereal beauty, to play the Queen of the Fairies?" Six weeks later he came back with a script.

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<

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