Still a Dream in High Park by any other name
Canadian Stage marks 30 years of Shakespeare in the summer with outside-the-box new production
Dmitry Chepovetsky and Tamara Podemski in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Where Shakespeare was at his best, or at least at the top of his comedy game, was in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A play put on so often by Canadian Stage over the past three decades, its outdoor production each summer had come to be called The Dream in High Park.
This year, the play returns to the leafy confines of High Park, but now the company has gone and changed the name of the whole shebang to Shakespeare in High Park. So we have A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of CanStage’s Shakespeare in High Park. Confusion aside, this year’s rendition is a rousing affair and will provide an enchanting and laugh-filled evening of entertainment.
There is no other play by Shakespeare that is so perfectly made for High Park, with its century-old trees and penchant for gentle summer breezes.
How wonderful to see Richard Rose, one of Canada’s smartest and wisest directors, at the helm.
This version of one of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies has been trimmed to a single act, barely 90 minutes long. And Rose has crafted a randy affair to say the least.
Warning: the play is a scream, but it isn’t exactly clear to those who haven’t studied it or recently read a synopsis. And that goes for adults as well as children. It’s worth every fraction of the second to call the plot up.
This production does get a serious updating, and it loses a bit of its cohesion as a result. Still, I can’t help but think that Willy would love this new take. It keeps all the bawdy humour Shakespeare intended, such as actors scurrying about in their underwear and plenty of sexual innuendo (good luck explaining that to your son or daughter after the show), and loses the overly dramatic interpretations.
There is a remarkable doubling of roles, with the Duke of Athens, Theseus (Dmitry Chepovetsky), about to marry the queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta (Tamara Podemski), paralleling the quarreling fairy couple, Oberon (ditto) and Titania (ditto). But I’m not sure this was such a good idea.
Things come undone when it comes to fairy land, with Oberon the fairy king adopting some sort of growl, with antlers in his hat, and very little range.
When it is fitting, it works just fine. But, is Oberon really supposed to be mad all the time? He’s a fairy king, people! Puck, one of the ripest roles in all of the Shakespeare canon, is pulled off nicely by Gil Garratt. But it could have been better. Actress Tamara Podemski does a fine job in her role as Titania, showing an emotional range befitting the role. Well done.
The four young lovers, well, they got it right — led by Eric Morin as the dreamy Lysander and Sophia Kolinas as Hermia. And kudos to Ali Momen as Demetrius and the pluck Sarah Sherman as power-walking, busybody Helena. In addition, the four comedians in the amateur acting company did a marvellous job led by the accomplished John Cleland, who embraces the rich comedic possibilities of Nick Bottom.
Each evening, there will be special guest performers who will show up and take part in the big wedding that wraps up the show.
On opening night, legendary Kids in the Hall actor Scott Thompson reprised his Queen Elizabeth II role to take part in the evening’s festivities. Needless to say, the crowd was suitably impressed to have Canadian comedy royalty in the amphitheatre.
Shakespeare in High Park runs until Sept. 2, and it is a wonderful evening of live theatre for the entire family (give or take). Tickets are by donation with a suggested price of $20, and kids are free. There are blankets available on-site to rent as well as plenty of beverages and snacks. But, most veterans come prepared.
For more information go to www.canstage.com.