Friday night, a group of 5 of us took a seat on the hillside at the Dream in High Park around 6pm. It’s important to get there early in order to stake out a place to sit and make sure you have enough space for the people in your group. This is a summer tradition I hadn’t done in quite a few years – I used to go all the time when I was in high school and earlier … but the summer’s had always passed by lately without a wander to The Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park.
We spread the blanket down, third row centre and brought out the various salads and pastas and chips and dips which made up the picnic we were going to eat for the next two hours before the show began. A nice box of French Rabbit wine made the evening’s feast complete. It was a bit windy that evening and the sand storm that came from the path lead a bit to be desired, but overall, it was a beautiful night for a picnic.
This year’s Shakespeare selection was the ever classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve seen this play a gazillion times, studied it in school, acted in it etc. but I never seem to tire of it. When done properly or with an interesting twist, this can be a hilarious comedy. This year’s production achieves ‘hilarity” status.
Director ahdri zhina mandiela set the Bard’s comedy in a modern day, urban Athen. The Athenian costumes were understated but effective while the faeries garb was anything but.
Puck was punk complete with tattoos from head to toe. Titania’s 3 faerie servants were dressed in magnificent colours – a sort of updated modern take on the 80’s (what the 80’s would look like if we dressed like that today).
But the most striking of all were the faerie King and Queen themselves. Titania, played by the ever amazing Karen Robinson (if you haven’t seen this woman on stage, you must – she is a force on stage to be reckon with) strolled onto the stage in a patch-quilt dress of oranges, greens and white followed by these amazing circular bouncing wings that looked like coils from a train conductors watch. As playful as Titania’s costume was, Oberon’s was equally proud and larger than life. Outfitted in a blue tuxedo-type jacket, there were enormous leaves like peacock feathers protruding from his back, sticking straight up a good 10 feet into the air. Watching these two celestial figures walk on stage definitely gave the audience the impression that these characters were larger than life.
The Mechanicals – always the scene stealer – hammed it up and had me in stitches with their rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe at the end of the play. But when you have actors such as Steven Gallagher (last seen in CanStage’s The Rocky Horror Show) as Peter Quince and Andrew Kushnir (Hair) as Flute in the mix, you are sure to be in for a laugh. Everyone in the Mechanical ensemble was perfectly cast. Matthew Brown as Snout, Sarah Dodd playing a bitterly funny Starveling, Emberly Doherty as the shy Snug, and Matthew Kabwe as the know-it-all Bottom were all fantastic in their roles.
The Lovers, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander, were also very well cast. I have to say that Maev Beatty stole the show out of the four of them with her brilliant comic timing and embodiment of Helena’s awkwardness and longing for Demetrius’ love. Lysander, played by Antonio Cayonne was very well acted including some wonderful rapping using the text provided. Holly Lewis and Richard Harte also performed exceptionally well in their role as Hermia and Demetrius respectively. Sarah Dodd, who doubled as Egeus, played this role perfectly as the executive suburban female constantly on the phone and full of contempt for practically everything. I do have to say though, it seems that she has worn the same skirt in the past three shows I’ve seen her in (the other two being Marion Bridge and A Whistle In The Dark).
The three ladies playing Titania’s faeries were a funny, energetic, mischievous trio of singers. Most of their text were sung with beautiful harmonies. And the master of mischief, Puck, played by Colin Heath, did a most excellent job in the role. His acrobatics alone really gave the character that faerie-like quality intended for the role. He seemed to fly through the air at parts or blend in to the scenery only to pop out later on.
There are times when watching Shakespeare can be tedious and tiring, and even in a comedy such as this, the play can drag. But thanks to the amazing direction from Ms. mandiela there is never a dull moment, never a lag. The almost 2 and a half hour show seems to whiz by and leaves you with a huge smile on your face. It really did seem magical that evening.
My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I would suggest to anyone looking for a really enjoyable evening to check out this production. Bring some snacks, a blanket and get there early. It is one of the summers traditions in Toronto that is definitely worth checking out.
The Dream In High Park is on until September 2.