William Shakespeare (or if you’re a literary conspiracy theorist, Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon), would have been pretty fly for a white guy in a pair of Jenco jeans, ski goggles, and a pacifier around his neck. He could have traded in those dusty tomes and quills for a pair of Technics, a mixer, a sweet sound system, a trippy lighting rig and spread his message of Peace, Love, Unity and Respect (P.L.U.R) from Verona to Elsinore. Nothing would have been rotten in Denmark with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern doling out Special K and Ecstasy to the gathering crowds. Shakespeare would have loved club kid fool Michael Alig and his superior Peter Gatien, the King Lear of New York.
Just roll with me on this one.
A Midsummer Night’s Rave is a 2002 film taking its cues from, you guessed it, Shakespeare’s enchanting comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Never really achieving it’s goals; it’s neither funny, sexy or otherwise edgy. Rave comes across like a lazy made-for-cable offspring of Baz Luhrmann's teenage panty-wetter Romeo & Juliet, Gregg Araki’s colorful teenage wasteland Nowhere and the light fluffer-nutter qualities of Can’t Hardly Wait.
Instead of the wedding preparation and it’s subsequent events we get young 20-somethings getting reading for an underground rave, where lamebrain hijinks and stereotypical rave culture follies proceed. Characters names have been updated for modern times, of course. Demetria, Helena, Lysander, and Hermia are now Damon, Elena, Xander and Mia. Oberon is now OB John. Puck is, thankfully, Puck. We follow these mortal (and one immortal, of course) characters through a day of procuring drugs, doing drugs, getting burnt on drugs, and other druggy endeavors. There is sound and lighting equipment to gather, plans for picking up dates and, true to form in going to a rave out in the middle of nowhere, characters have to get lost.
And lost is the best way to describe the movie. The love quarrel between Damon, Elena, Xander and Mia is here, but when most of the emoting comes between sips of bottled water and shaking the sweat off while dancing to throbbing techno music, its easy to shrug it off and just nod your own head to the beat. Plus, we’re not dealing with any Lee Strasberg graduates here. Nick, as in Nick Bottom, gets some laugh mileage as an unfortunate would-be Romeo. Whereas in the play he transforms into an “ass”, here his character actually dresses up like a donkey for his day job, reluctantly entertaining children at birthday parties. I chuckled a few times when, after Nick takes a drug meant for another, stumbles around screaming “More bass! I’m an ass! Oh god I’m an ass!”
Which brings us to OB John (Oberon) and Puck. Oberon was King of the Fairies in the play, now he’s King of the Rave; a New Age rave promoter and dime store zen-master, dispensing wisdom to blank-eyed teens and dispensing pills for Puck to sell. Glen Badyna’s Puck may be the one redeeming element of the film. Here the elfish trickster is transformed into the cutie of the cuddle puddle set, a drug-selling knave who looks like he stepped out of the late-80s New York Club Kid lookbook. OB John gives him, along with the usual supply of E and horse tranquilizers, a “special” drug to sell, a luminescent green pill that looks similar to Dr. Herbert West’s re-animating formula. The pills are only to go to those who need it, those that are lost and in love....zzzzzzz. Of course, some of the pills go to the wrong characters and comedy ensues. Badyna has fun here, and how could you not playing a sassy drug-dealing fairy?
Generic rave culture touchstones do abound. There’s the aforementioned getting lost and confused to the oft-not advertised locale on the flyer. There’s a “chill-out” room where young ravers can go make out, touch each other, talk about love and act other side effects from rolling on too much Ecstasy. You get plenty of candy kid extras, speeding out of their heads and bedecked in ridiculous outfits and accessories. Authentic techno music, courtesy of the once mega-popular Moonshine Music record label, features heavily, and one-time superstar DJs Christopher Lawrence, Donald Glaude and DJ Irene all make cameos as DJs in the film. In 2002, when the film was released, the rave scene had for all intents and purposes stalled out. After notorious New York club owner Peter Gaiten was chased out of the city by Rudy Giuliani, and after the enfant-terrible of the scene Michael Alig went to prison on a murder beef, the center collapsed. Techno music was terribly stale and the ever present staple drug of choice, Ecstasy, was the DEA’s new bete-noir and not easy to come by. Like LSD and the Grateful Dead, one seemingly needed the other for maximum enjoyment. Rave was dead. This movie was another nail in the coffin. It’s about as authentic and hip as Richard Nixon socking-it-to-you on Laugh In, and as a Shakespeare riff, it’s never as clever as it wants to be.
To quote from Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Rave is “A walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more”.