Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare in the Ruff)

by Lynn on August 25, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Withrow Park, Toronto. Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Andrew Joseph Richardson
Directed by Megan Watson
Set and lighting by Nick Blais
Costumes by Erin Gerofsky
Props by Edith Nataprawira
Choreographer, Patricia Allison
Composer and Choir Director, Maddie Bautista
Cast: Eva Barrie
Joella Crichton
Nikki Duval
Danny Ghantous
Jonelle Gunderson
Michelle Polak
Andrew Joseph Richardson
Tim Welham

A stylish looking production with some interesting character bending but in spite some good performances it gets bogged down in concept and some out of control performances.

The Story. Hermia wants to marry Lysandra but Hermia’s father Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius and he wants to marry her. Helena is in love with Demetrius but he wants no part of her. They all escape to the forest where all manner of magical shenanigans take place. Everything works out when the wood fairies get involved and there are magical juices from flowers used to change people’s minds and hearts.

The Production. The production is outdoors in Withrow Park, between the two willow trees. Nick Blais has fashioned a round shiny brown sphere that is tied between the two trees as a focal point of the action. A choir sings in the background to add a musical note. Later they will stand in the darkened park holding glowing orbs, which also add atmosphere.

Erin Gerofsky’s costumes have an ethereal look to them that could be timeless. The costumes for Titania/Hippolyta are Greek-style short robes. He costumes for the other characters are on that Greek/ethereal theme.

I can appreciate that director Megan Watson wants to level the playing field so that women play what might usually be men’s parts. So what would have been Lysander in the original text, is now Lysandra and is played by Joella Crichton. Bottom, one of the (male) mechanicals who are tradespeople preparing a play for the wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus, is played by Nikki Duval, a woman.

Watson uses the space of the park very well. Actors make entrances and exits from great distances, or they stand in the far reaches of the park as the sun goes down, holding glowing orbs. Great effect.

Watson has a good eye for the look of the production. She is lucky to have Michelle Polak as Titania/Hippolyta and Danny Ghantous who plays Demetrius. Both have an easy grasp of the poetry and music of the language. Polak is commanding as both Titania and Hippolyta but in different ways. Her body language is assured. Ghantous as well knows how to illuminate the poetry of the language but also to make it muscular for this lively character, Demetrius.

But too many other actors, seem defeated by Shakespeare’s language and make up for it by flailing around and yelling their lines. It’s painful to watch and listen too. Surely this is where the director should give some guidance, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Also, I can appreciate being respectful and sensitive to people, but this has gone too far in the scenes with the Mechanicals. Two characters are supposed to kiss through a ‘chink in the wall.’ Simple. The word ‘chink’ means a slit or slight opening in the wall.’ Except that in this version the word ‘chink’ is pronounced ‘kink’. In an insensitive connotation ‘chink’ is a pejorative term for a certain nationality. But that is not the meaning here. To pronounce it ‘kink’ changes the meaning of the line into something that makes no sense. This is political correctness run amok. The word is chink and that’s how it should be pronounced. The audience should be trusted to know the word is not an insult.

Comment. Normally I cut people a lot of slack who are inexperienced with Shakespeare. I have a hard time doing that here with so many screaming, seemingly out of control performances. Coupled with the incorrect pronunciation of a crucial word for political correctness it was not one of my happier times seeing a Shakespeare in the Ruff production.

Produced by Shakespeare in the Ruff

Began: Aug. 15, 2017.
Closes: Sept. 3, 2017.
Cast: 8: 3 men, 5 women.
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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