by Lynn on June 3, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

At the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Chris Abraham
Designed by Julie Fox
Lighting by Michael Walton
Composed and sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Maev Beaty
Evan Buliung
Jonathan Goad
Bethany Jillard
Liisa Repo-Martell
Stephen Ouimette
Chick Reid
Tara Rosling
Mike Shara
Michael Spencer-Davis
Scott Wentworth

A joyous production that brings out the dream aspect of the play as well as the emotional confliction and transformative power when you fall in love.

The Story. Hermia is in love with Lysander. Hermia’s father Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius wants to marry Hermia. She refuses. Egeus goes to Theseus, Duke of Athens, for a judgement. Theseus finds in favour of Egeus. Hermia and Lysander decide to run away. They are to meet in the wood and then will continue their journey to Lysander’s aunt’s house. She will take them in and they can marry. Hermia tells her plans to her friend Helena. Helena loves Demetrius but he won’t give her a second look. So Helena tells Demetrius of Hermia and Lysander’s plays to runaway and meet in the wood. That sets things going. Helena follows Lysander to the wood and he can’t get rid of her.

Also in the wood are Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies. They have their own issues. She has a changeling boy that he wants and she won’t give him up. He resorts to dirty tricks to get the boy. It involves a magic flower and the powerful juice from it which when dropped in the eyes makes the person fall in love with the first thing she sees. In this case it’s a man transformed into a donkey. Oberon also notes the two couples who keep running away from each other, getting separated, being lost, and lots of seeming unrequited love.

To right this situation Oberon asks his ‘servant’ Puck, a sprite, to drop more flower juice in the eye of Demetrius so that he will in fact fall in love with Helena and she of course will be happy about that. Only Puck gets it wrong. Well, it is dark in that forest and how is he to know who is who? He tries to right it and still screws up.

In the end it all works out and not a minute too soon because it’s exhausting for an audience to laugh that long and hard.

The Production. Director Chris Abraham has directed this so that the production begins the minute the audience steps into the theatre. The place is decorated as if for a garden party after a wedding. Ribbons and flowers are wrapped around the railings beside the seats. Designer Julie Fox has created a back yard with grass, rockery, flowers, a pond, chairs and all the accoutrement that says “wedding.” Children in their party finery scurry across the yard, playing. Adults play with them. Members of the audience are greeted from the stage as if they are long lost friends. The greeters are glad the audience has arrived in spite of spotty directions. Sometimes the wedding guests come into the audience to chat them up and ask how they liked the wedding. The audience gets right into the game. This aggravates me no end. I like being in my space and the actor stays in theirs. I take a deep breath and wait for all the frivolity in the audience to settle so that the play can begin.

A dapper man in a white suit and tie, drink in hand, announces that now that the wedding has taken place, they—the guests—will put on a play as entertainment for the newly married couple. When they are not in a scene, they will sit along the front of the audience and watch with us.

The couple is brought in, blindfolded. The couple are the same sex. When the blindfolds are removed the two newly married men beam at their guests; garlands of flowers are put on their heads, they sit in a place of honour just in front of the audience and the play begins.

As Egeus, Michael Spencer-Davis is furious at the situation. His hands cut the air in anger that his daughter Hermia will not marry Demetrius. She wants to marry Lysander. In this case Lysander is a woman played by Tara Rosling. Egeus’s hands do the talking. Egeus is played as hearing-speech impaired. He signs everything. His assistant verbalizes what he is saying and replies in sign. We are never in doubt as to what is being said. At one point Hermia signs to her father and speaks the words, pleading her case. As Hermia, Bethany Jillard is as passionate and frustrated in this situation as her father. The anguish for both is palpable.

Abraham uses the whole theatre with enchanting results. As Demetrius, Mike Shara scurries down one of the aisles in an effort to escape Helena who is pursuing him. He looks like a boyish with that hint of being an imp, a prankster. He gets his when Oberon continues to play tricks on him in the forest.

As Lysander, Tara Rosling is more thoughtful and mature than Demetrius, but with her own sense of fun. As Helena, Liisa Ripo-Martell certainly has her share of angst. She loves Demetrius to distraction; is almost crazed with longing for him; is rather sweet when she tires to contain her frustration, and even funnier when she lets it loose.

All the children in the wedding party play the fairies with assurance, fearless exuberance and professionalism. We get a sense of the dreamlike atmosphere of the woods as well as the kind of frenzy that is going on there. Oberon as played by Jonathan Goad is macho and swaggering in black pants and sleeveless vest, with two rams horns in his hair. His Titania makes her entrance gliding down the aisle in a cone of light, in a sleeveless white satiny gown, her blonde hair swept back. Titania is played with true feminine elegance by Evan Buliung and he is wonderful. Chick Reid is the sprightliest Puck. With a pixie haircut; horns in her hair; a smart gold jacket, Reid plays Puck with insouciance even though she keeps on screwing up with those pesky flower juices by putting them in the right person’s eyes.

As Bottom, Stephen Ouimette doesn’t need to play for laughs. He just is funny because he is so serious and eager. Theseus has his own romantic situation. He won his wife Hippolyta in war. As played by Maev Beaty we get the clear sense she’s none too happy about it. Perhaps she drinks to forget that. Beaty’s Hippolyta is obviously trying to make the best of a tricky situation for her, but her displeasure with Theseus’s decision to side with Egeus is obvious. Still Theseus, as played with charm and gentle wooing by Scott Wentworth, wins her over. Everyone is partnered with their true and right partner.

At the end the audience applauds the cast and they applaud back except in one case. Michael Spencer-Davis does the hearing/speech impaired ‘applause’—he bends his arms
up in the air and rotates his hands forward and back. Brilliant.

Comment. I know that Alice Through the Looking Glass is designated as the family show at Stratford and just right for children. But I think this glorious production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the one that will spark a kid’s imagination. It’s full of humour, sight-gags, wit, frenzy, kids being kids and how silly adults in love can be. And it realizes the world we live in. We have grown up to recognize same sex marriage, same sex parenting, gender-bending situations that are acceptable and the norm. Sometimes in our world language is not ‘spoken’ it’s signed.

Director Chris Abraham has illuminated the dream part of the play, with silly business, (Demetrius getting hit in the face by wayward branches put in his way by Oberon; Oberon falling off a rock into a pond behind him; Titania all grace and elegance dotting on Bottom, transformed into a donkey) as well as the nightmarish part in the forest, where you don’t know where you’re going and your partner has disappeared and it’s dark and you are spooked.

Abraham has made bold choices that enhance the play; asks the audience to suspend its disbelief just a bit, trust in the words and believe in that world.

Was it my imagination but I thought I saw more couples kissing in the lobby after the production than I ever saw before? Friends rushed across the lobby to embrace, beaming. The transformative power of love and wonderful, thoughtful, joyous theatre.

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: May 31, 2014
Closes: October 11, 2014
Cast: 28; 16 men (and boys) 12 women (with kids)
Running Time: 3 hours approx.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alex Richman June 3, 2014 at 10:35 am

We were wondering if Oberon falling off the rock was intentional, it looked like it wasn’t to us, but I trust your eye for such things. I really liked the production, and have think RO’s Toronto Star review was not very insightful.


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