Presented by We Quit Theatre
With its indulgent title and quirky theatrical shenanigans; i am your spaniel, or, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare by Gislina Patterson is the epitome of avant-guard performance art. Starting off as a lecture on the form and meaning of Shakespeare’s bawdy and fanciful comedy, it gets into the weeds with some obsessively researched re-contextualization.
Gislina Patterson—playing a sort of drag version of themself as an eccentric academic thespian—sits at a messy desk and employs a variety of random objects to illustrate the basic story beats of the play. Using the First Folio as a reference, they plan to take us through the text, line-by-line, examining the intricacies of punctuation, capitalization and spelling—thereby revealing how these very precise literary conventions dictate not just the control of airflow during delivery, but convey a whole universe of complex and expansive meanings.
It’s… a lot.
Director and dramaturg Dasha Plett provides a vital on-stage presence here—serving a variety of disparate functions such as MC, tech support and dog master! As co-founders of We Quit Theatre, their dynamic betrays an established intimacy and creative fusion that greatly informs the performance.
As Patterson’s personal history aligns with historical record and speculative invention; this flamboyant and meandering account goes off the rails in a highly focused and purposeful way. Tech glitches lead to anecdotal asides, the set gets draped in a tarp—always promising!—and Patterson, as if pranked by some mischievous faerie, transforms into a dog.
With Patterson donning a collar and barking into the audience, this hilarious and kinky new development coincides with the moment from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which the lovelorn Helena debases herself in front of the object of her pathetic affection. Taking “I am your spaniel” literally, Patterson’s intense connection to the play suddenly throws their very being into chaos.
Delving into some dark backstory, Patterson dredges up the figure of Bartholomew Steer and the pitiful failure of the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596. They lead us down the rabbit hole of early capitalism and the insidious phenomenon of enclosure—the seizure of common land leading to disproportionate power and wealth. A pattern is exposed, a through-line of governmental indoctrination into a network of interlocking systems that benefit a few at the expense of many. Even the family unit is interrogated here as a mercenary social mechanism.
There is a very distinctive anti-establishment edge to this work as it negotiates a charged space between flamboyant, arty spectacle and incisive exposé. The unflattering portrait of Shakespeare as a hired propagandist is certainly unsettling, especially for those who happen to love the comic whimsy of this particular play; Patterson’s whole vibe, though, is so giddy and guileless that even the darkest bits aren’t a complete downer.
This isn’t everyone’s bag, I’m sure, but I have an inordinate appreciation for very specific, impassioned, well-articulated takes. And this—with all its weird, sad and proletariate rage inciting factoids—is, uh, exactly that!