David Heron brings Jamaican ‘Obeah’ to Shakespeare

Jamaican actor and playwright David Heron.
Sure Thing Production

Award winning Jamaican actor and playwright David Heron has been cast in the leading roles of Oberon, King of the Fairies and Theseus, Duke of Athens in the Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island’s Shakespeare in The Park production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The production will open in Rhode Island’s historic Wilcox Park in Westerly on Friday, Aug. 2 and is slated to run till Sunday, Aug. 18.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most renowned and iconic comedies and is a popular staple among theatre companies across the USA for outdoor summer productions.

The play follows the adventures of four star-crossed lovers from Athens who escape into a nearby forest in pursuit of marriage and romance only to fall under the spell of the magical forest king Oberon and his loyal wizard, the fairy Puck. A series of hilarious adventures ensues with spells going awry and several cases of mistaken identity before all comes right in the end.

And in a unique twist on Shakespeare’s play, Heron will portray King Oberon as a Jamaican conjurer and practitioner of magical arts- or to use the Jamaican terminology, an ‘Obeah Man.’

According to Heron, “When I started doing research for the role, the irony struck me that Shakespeare’s character is called Oberon, and in Jamaica a man who practices witchcraft is called an ‘Obeah Man’. So Oberon, Obeah Man… Did Shakespeare know something that we didn’t? And so when I told our director Michael Scholar Jr and the rest of the cast about the similarity in names, it seemed really logical that I should play Oberon as just that- a kind of Jamaican king of the forest who uses his other worldly powers to cast spells and manipulate others. So I think that puts a pretty unique spin on the story that I’m sure audiences will enjoy.”

In the Colonial Theatre’s revelatory new production, Canadian director Scholar tells the entire story of the play through the eyes of a child, who escapes her unhappy home life by reading the story as a fairytale in her bedroom. All the play’s characters then come magically to life as the tale unfolds.

Scholar’s unique approach to the material intrigues Heron, a Shakespeare veteran who has also appeared Off Broadway and across the USA in many other Shakespearean productions including Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Hamlet, Othello and Coriolanus.

“Obviously the roles of Oberon and Theseus — which are very often married together and played by one actor in productions of Midsummer— are absolutely iconic, immensely challenging, and a huge addition to any actor’s resume,” he said. “But Michael’s idea to frame the story as a fairy tale unfolding through the eyes of a child really excited me. The play, though comedic in nature does have some very important things to say about love, forgiveness, and — being largely set in a forest — about the environment too. Since our children will ultimately inherit the world we leave behind, to see the child in this production learning these lessons as the audience does is a uniquely moving and satisfying experience.”

Heron also relishes the idea of bringing some of his own Jamaican and Caribbean culture to yet another Shakespearean work following the use of his Jamaican accent in several scenes in New York Classical Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale some years ago.”

“When you break out that Jamaican dialect to speak Shakespeare’s beautiful language, something truly magical happens — a kind of seamless merger of two very different cultures that may not be so different after all. I think it will be a very different Oberon than many people in Westerly have ever experienced, and that’s a good thing.”

The cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” also includes Jen Olivares (Titania/Hippolyta), Nora Fox (Puck), Henry Gardner (Lysander), Alana Rader (Helena), Anna Paratore (Hermia), Daniel Taylor Duren (Demetrius), Marion Markham (Quince), Lori Evans (Egeus / Starveling) and Karack Osborn (Bottom).

The cast is completed by Chris Cornwell, Erica Phoebus, Patrick Mark Saunders, Grace West and Truly Siskind Weiss.

The Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island is the state’s official Shakespeare Theatre Company and has been presenting free Shakespeare in the Park productions in Westerly for thousands of patrons over the past three decades.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm from Aug. 2 through 18 and is free and open to the public.

Further information is available at:-www.colonialtheatreri.org

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