by Lynn on November 7, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Carly Chamberlain
Set and costumes by Adriana Bogaard
Lighting by André du Toit
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Choreography by Ashleigh Powell
Cast: Christopher Darroch
Tatiana Deans
Dylan Evans
Maggie Hammel
Erik Helle
Sarah Marchand
Shalyn McFaul
Laura Meadows
Megan Miles
Chanakya Mukherjee
Lesley Robertson
Alan Shonfield
Ilan Tzitrin
Laura Vincent
Mike Vitorovich

A lively, funny, production that does not shy away from the thorny problems. The star of the show is director Carly Chamberlain who solves the problems with style and wit.

The Story. Ahhhh the course of true love doesn’t run smooth when you have two stubborn, witty people like Beatrice and Benedick. They lob barbs at each other until a near tragedy makes them realize the inevitable.

Elsewhere in the story, Beatrice’s cousin, Hero is in love with Claudio and he with her. They are to be married. Everybody is happy except the play’s troublemaker, Don John (for this production he is a she named Donna John). Donna John sets up a ruse whereby Hero’s reputation is besmirched. The rumours are believed by some of Shakespeare’s stupidest men, namely Hero’s father and Claudio, who of course don’t do any fact-checking.

The Production. Director Carly Chamberlain has set the play in the 1940s complete with crooning background music to get us in the mood as we file in. She has changed the gender of some characters without disruption to the sense of the play. So Don John is now a woman who is called Donna John but is still listed as Don John in the program. Laura Meadows plays Don John and does not shy away from the darkness or nastiness of the character. Dogberry is now a woman and still hilarious. Verges is a woman as well.

Adriana Bogaard’s set of moving screens is efficient in changing the locations and getting people on and off the stage efficiently.

Shalyn McFaul plays Beatrice and is lively, emotional and takes-no-prisoners when she gets into an argument or debate. Christopher Darroch is a courtly, thoughtful, witty Benedick and a perfect match for Beatrice. As Dogberry, Lesley Robertson makes an art form out of Dogberry’s malapropisms and her sense of the physical comedy in the part is wonderful.

But the real star of the production is director Carly Chamberlain. She has smarts, heart, a keen sense of the theatrical and a clear way of solving the many thorny problems Shakespeare throws in the play. How about that bit about Hero being wrongfully accused of being unfaithful? In the text there is a ploy to convince Leonato (Hero’s father) and Claudio, her intended, that the night before her wedding Hero was visited at her bedroom window by a fellah, not her fiancé. Leonato and Claudio were there to see it, although it was dark and they only saw shadows. In fact it was Margaret, a servant in the house who was at Hero’s window, talking to a man she knew, one of Don John’s henchmen.

How this comes out at the wedding is tricky. Margaret is there at the wedding hearing Claudio accuse Hero of talking to a man at her window. Many directors are defeated by how to reveal Margaret’s realization it’s she he is talking about. But not Carly Chamberlain. She handles the intricacies of the scene beautifully and clearly as Sarah Marchand as Margaret lets us know subtly of her discomfort at the realization and the reality is resounding.

No does Chamberlain shy away from the thorny issue of the ending. Hero has been wrongfully accused of unfaithfulness by her father and fiancé. She can handle a hurt father, but what to do about an easily duped boyfriend, soon to be her husband? Again Chamberlain does not go for a neat, happy ending. How she handles the last scene makes us squirm just a touch and smile at the irony of it. Yup, Carly Chamberlain is the star of the show. She has created a terrific time in the theatre. Don’t you dare miss this!

Hart House Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 4, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 19, 2016.
Cast: 15; 7 men, 8 women
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.

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