by Lynn on November 14, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Monarch Tavern, Clinton St., Toronto, Ont.


Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Catherine Rainville and James Wallis

Choreography by John Wamsley

Composed by Hilary Adams

Cast: Hilary Adams

Zara Jestadt

Nyiri Katakas

Eliza Martin

Kate McArthur

Megan Miles

Michelle Mohammed

Justin Mullen

Nick Nahwegahbow

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Mussie Solomon

John Wamsley

How prescient of the gifted folks of Shakespeare BASH’d to know that their wonderfully thoughtful, funny, emotion-filled production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the perfect show to see on a cold November night right after a major snowstorm.

Let me borrow their mission statement to explain their name and mandate:

​“A “Bash” is a crushing blow. It can be aggressive and done with passion. It can be about making an attempt, going at it all your own. It can also be a wild night.

Shakespeare BASH’d is an actor initiative that seeks to take ownership of their own creativity by producing Shakespeare’s plays in social settings, creating a relaxed, exciting environment for the audience.

Their mission is to present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language, and an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.

Shakespeare BASH’d seeks to synthesize the traditional with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, fun, excitement, truth, professionalism, and love.”

 Their productions are presented in a bar—talk about relaxed—and the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street is as relaxed and inviting as they come. The audience sits on either side of the playing area, drink in hand. The action happens between the two sides of the room, and often elsewhere. The lights are always up—they are honest when they say that the staging etc. is simple.

What is not simple about these productions is the care, attention to detail and rigor the company invests in realizing the play that Shakespeare wrote. They might cut the text and change the gender of characters, as they do with A Midsummer Night’s Dream but they are true to the spirit and message of Shakespeare.

For our purposes, Egeus is now a woman  played with righteous indignation by Megan Miles. Egeus wants her daughter Hermia (Eliza Martin) to marry Demetrius (Mussie Solomon) the man to whom Egeus gives consent. Hermia wants to marry Lysander (Justin Mullen). The matter is taken to Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Nick Nahwegahbow). Egeus wants Hermia to follow her dictates or have her put to death. A bit harsh, that.

Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to his aunt’s house and get married there. They tell Hermia’s friend Helena (Nyiri Karakas) of their plans. Helena in turn tells Demetrius because she’s in love with him and hopes to make points with him.

They all follow each other into the forest where all manner of magic and mayhem happen. Several local characters, the Mechanicals,  prepare a play for the impending marriage of Theseus and his fiancé Hippolyta (Hilary Adams); a fairy King named Oberon (a commanding Kate McArthur) and a fairy Queen named Titania (a fiery, beguiling Zara Jestadt) live in the forest and vie for the ownership of a little Indian boy; Oberon realizing that there are these two couples scurrying through the forest and they are not all in love with the person they want to really, decides to help things along by sending his sprite Puck, (Michelle Mohammed) to put some love potion in the eyes of the lover who needs it. Puck gets it wrong and puts the potion in the wrong eye-balls and has to make it right; and Bottom (a wide-eyed, impish Julie Nish-Lapidus), one of the Mechanicals, has a spell put on her and her head is turned into that of a donkey. Well, you know, it’s Athens, the forest, it’s hot. Strange things happen.

Co-directors, Catherine Rainville and James Wallis get the proceedings off to a rousing start by establishing the heightened emotions when the cast bursts into the space, ready to celebrate the impending marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. From then to the end the pace goes like the wind without sacrificing nuance and subtlety. The directors and their gifted cast capture the head games caused by vivid dreams, being lost in the forest running after the one you love and trying to escape the one you don’t love. The lovers are intoxicated with love or frustrated by not having it. The stakes are raised when the magical powers of Oberon and Titania come into play when each wants that Indian boy. You get the sense of the dizzying speed of events that the characters are experiencing.

Theseus is played with boyish, smooth charm by Nick Nahwegahbow and he is equally matched by Hilary Adams as Hippolyta, who is no-nonsense but charming in her own right. As the lovers, Eliza Martin as Hermia stands her ground and is compelling. Justin Mullen plays Lysander with urgency and quiet intensity. Mussie Solomon is almost laid-back as Demetrius he is so cool. Nyiri Karakas as Helena is fearless in her pursuit of Demetrius and emotionally fragile when things get out of control with who is chasing whom.

The cast of ten generally play more than one character (there are a few exceptions), and the double casting is wonderful with strong performances in one part becoming meek, mild characters elsewhere.

It’s complicated; mistaken identity; fever pitched emotions; hot love; a mischievous sprite squirting potion in your eyes. How will it end? Beautifully of course. Madcap, mayhem. Perfect for a cold, snowy night.

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: Nov. 12, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, approx.

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1 Brian Stein November 14, 2019 at 8:01 pm

I hope you caught the NT Live production of the play, directed by Nicky Hytner from the Bridge Theatre. Lots of fun. If you didn’t don’t feel bad. Where I caught it there were 12 people in the auditorium. I’m never sure how people find out about the Events at Cineplex. The marketing is a great secret. The Lehmen Trilogy was packed., however.