Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by Lynn on January 22, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Kwaku Okyere, Richard Alan Campbell
Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Adapted in parts by the company.

Directed by Allyson McMackon

Costumes by Brandon Kleiman

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Fights by Simon Fon

Cast: Richard Alan Campbell

Burgundy Code

Amanda Cordner

Michael Derworiz

Nick Eddie

Matthew Finlan

Sarah Machin Gale

Richard Lee

Alexa MacDougall

Alexandra Montagnese

Kwaku Okyere

Matthew Rossoff

Annie Tuma

A breath-taking, heart-stopping production that realizes the depth, darkness, love, sexuality and joy of the play. Bravo to director/visionary Allyson McMackon for this beautiful parting gift.

The Story. I am going to copy the press information because they did such a good job: “Spanning a single evening or a single sleep, Shakespeare’s play is set in Athens on the eve of a big wedding. Threatened with death if she does not marry who her father chooses, Hermia flees with her lover Lysander through a forest to get to an aunt’s house where they may love freely. Pursued by Hermia’s approved-of suitor Demetrius and the lovelorn Helena, a comedy of desires ensues as they enter a supernatural world with a warring fairy queen and king, a Hobgoblin named Puck and a group of actors rehearsing a play for the festive wedding.”

The Production.  Every single creative decision from the casting to the design to the performances to the direction is so accomplished they make my head swim.  The stage is bare. The playing space is a huge circle. The cast enters running, circles the area and scatters around the space. When characters are not in a scene the actors wait watching either stage left or right by the walls. The ensemble cast themselves in their parts. They also adapted Act I and Act V of the play to reflect certain ideas.

The production starts with various members of the cast taking turns trying to tell the story only to have another cast member say, “No, that’s not what happened.” Then that person tries to tell the story only to be interrupted by someone else, saying “that’s not how it happened” And that person tries to tell the story. And then the characters take their places and the play continues.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about confusion and mistaken identity—Puck puts the magic potion in the eye of the wrong Athenian for example. What better way to deepen that idea than with a bit of adaptation in which the characters can’t agree on how the story really happened or what it’s really about?

OK I know I was less than accommodating  when director Chris Abraham had writer Zack Russell add whole scenes to the Groundling Theatre and Crow’s Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar to establish his thesis about the play. In that case I thought the play did that on its own. In the case of Theatre Rusticle’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the company has its own particular style of re-imagining established plays and stories while still being true to the spirit of the play and these adapted scenes fulfil the company’s mandate.

Director Allyson McMackon has created a production that is popping with energy. Of all the productions that I’ve seen of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I have never seen a forest (where it takes place) so teeming with buoyant, fearless life, sex, danger, darkness,  animals, insects, people, frenzied confusion, jealousy and love.

Hermia (Annie Tuma) and Lysander (Matthew Finlan) race through the forest on their way to his aunt’s house, to escape her father’s wrath and the demand that she marry Demetrius (Alexandra Montagnes). They get discombobulated in the forest. It’s night. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is moody and striking.  Helena (Nick Eddie) is in love with Demetrius. Demetrius wants Hermia.  Hermia is in love with Lysander but her father wants her to marry Demetrius and if she says no then he wants her dead. (A bit harsh, that) Helena knows that Hermia and Lysander are escaping through the forest and tells Demetrius to make points with him, then they too go charging through the forest to catch them. The movement/action here is not just flitting from here to there. No, this is Allyson McMackon action. The actors run, flip, slide, and jump over and into each other. The images are striking. The text says that Helena is tall. Allyson McMackon, as director, and Nick Eddie as Helena go for the gusto by accentuating that. Nick Eddie is over six feet tall and the other actors are shorter. The image of the gangly, ‘cloud-touching’ Helena next to the other characters (and certainly Hermia) who are ‘diminutive’ in comparison is a wonderful sight, which is the point.  

In the meantime Oberon (Kwaku Okyere), King of the Fairies, wants his Fairie Queen Titania (Richard Lee) to give him “a little changeling boy” of whom she is protective. She won’t. He then uses trickery to steal the changeling boy from her. As Oberon, Kwaku Okyere moves stealthily close to the ground. He is almost cat-like or even lizard-like. The movements are fluid, muscular, graceful and balletic. He wears black tights and a form-fitting top that accentuates the muscularity of the character. Okyere, quiet voiced, conveys Oberon’s seductiveness, dangerousness and command.

As Titania, Richard Lee is also dressed in black—black flowing light cape and tights (kudos to costume designer, Brandon Kleiman). In this case the cape suggests wings so I get the sense that Titania is either a delicate flying insect or perhaps even a bird. But there is nothing delicate about Lee’s playing of Titania. While Oberon is close to the ground in his movements, Titania is upright, giving the sense she is in the air. Titania matches Oberon’s strength with her own determined resolve. They are a perfect match.   

Puck is often played as an impish, playful spirit. Here Richard Alan Campbell plays him as a bit muddled, confused and not exactly swift of movement. That could better explain his confusion in putting the magical flower liquid in the eye of the wrong Athenian. What a refreshing rethinking of this character.

McMackon keeps the pace at break-neck speed. Simon Fon works his magic by creating such high-stakes fights. All this passionate, frantic movement and activity leaves everybody breathless, including the audience. Make sure you know where the defibrillator is in the theatre.

Comment. This is the last production of Theatre Rusticle after which founder-artistic director, Allyson McMackon closes it down. She founded the company in 1998 and produced some of the most provocative productions over that time and she’s tired. I can appreciate that but it’s heartbreaking that this kind of consistent challenging, bracing theatre from this company will stop.   The artistic world is changing and she is going on to other challenges. She will still teach, direct etc.  And boy did she go out with a bang. The run is sold out but returns are possible. Do anything within reason to get a ticket.

In an effort to go green the programme etc. is on line. There is no hard copy of the  programme of the show. This is unfortunate. I so wanted a memento of this last Theatre Rusticle show to put in my drawer with all my other treasures. Thanks for everything, Allyson, especially all those times you made me gasp at some clever direction, or an image or an illuminated thought. Wonderful theatre does that.

Theatre Rusticle presents:

Began: Jan. 14, 2020.

Closes: Jan. 26, 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, approx.

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