A Shakespeare Documentary set in a retirement home for actors? Welcome to the magical realism of Still Dreaming

Like Shakespeare himself, Still Dreaming subverts the expected. When we meet the troupe from the Lillian Booth Actor’s Home of Englewood, New Jersey, we don’t know what to think. The troupe has come together to stage Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, under the direction of Fisaco Theatre’s Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody.

After the first meeting, Ben and Noah see an ambulance parked outside. “Oh, good, we get to spend the next six weeks confronting our mortality,” Noah observes. What follows, however, is rather more life-affirming.

Harold Cherry, Lucille Segal and Bob Evans rehearse “the Kiss”.

Harold Cherry, Lucille Segal and Bob Evans rehearse “the Kiss”.

Flourishing arts scenes are not the norm in assisted living homes. It is in the unexpected familiar where Still Dreaming works its magic. The magic is not merely found in the mischievous spirits of the Athenian forest, but in the journey of these unique actors. They are not hobbled shades of people, but vibrant and brilliant.

The actors have a daunting task, as the effects of age work against their endeavour. Experienced as well as first-time actors have to work through the process with all the commensurate handicaps age can bring. One actress suffers from degenerative eyesight, another with dementia. Two actors work from wheelchairs, others use walkers. One, due to her Alzheimer’s, has an aide follow her through her role. But the drive and need to tell the story is apparent, undimmed by time.

Harold Cherry rehearses Bottom's Dream.

Harold Cherry rehearses Bottom’s Dream.

Playing Puck is Charlotte Fairchild, a longtime veteran of Broadway musicals. She decides to try something new when responding to the speech by Oberon (played by Dimo Condos) about the magic flower. Instead of reacting as written, Fairchild spontaneously sings accompaniment to Dimo. Her voice, at once sirenic and angelic, brings the house down. Ben reacts: “That’s rehearsal – absolutely extraordinary, both of you.”

Any theatre practitioner will recognise this rehearsal process, as it is thoroughly normal. Actors work on scenes and learn more about one another. While rehearsing the part of Hermia, Lynette Loose confesses that she has lived Hermia’s situation – due to the demands of her parents, she married a man she did not love.

Dimo Condos hugs Charlotte Fairchild.

Dimo Condos hugs Charlotte Fairchild.

Egos clash from the very first rehearsal, and then they explode in a memorable scene where the directors call out an actor for trying to direct another actor. Meanwhile, the actor playing Bottom, Harold Cherry, works to discover his character – walking around the forest, ass’s head affixed, calling to his fairies.

As the play comes together, we get the not altogether surprising news that Shakespeare is good for you. The residents have decreased many of their medications since the troupe began its work, becoming more engaged, spurred on by the show.

Made by the team who produced the excellent Shakespeare Behind Bars, Still Dreaming is available from 19 April on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD.

Go here to watch the trailer for Still Dreaming.

Go here to find out more about Still Dreaming, and to order a copy.