Revised Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Stratford Festival

by Lynn on July 26, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Stratford Festival, Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy, Stratford, Ont. until August. 1,

NOTE: All the plays in the Stratford Festival season, except Three Tall Women, are edited to about 90 minutes with no intermission and are performed under the Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy. Three Tall Women is performed in two parts (you do not ‘edit’ Edward Albee’s plays) and will be performed indoors, at the Studio Theatre.

Written by William Shakespeare

Director, Peter Pasyk

Set designer, Patrick Lavender

Costume designer, Lorenzo Savoini

Lighting designer, Michael Walton

Composer, sound designer, Reza Jacobs

Choreographer, Stephen Cota

Cast: Eva Foote

Craig Lauzon

Trish Lindström

Jonathan Mason

André Sills

Amaka Umeh

Micah Woods

Bahareh Yaraghi

Shakespeare is back at the Stratford Festival in this raucous, raunchy, bold, joyful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Story. This is a story full of magic, mayhem, mistaken identity, fairies in the forest wreaking havoc on young lovers and lots and lots of sex.  Egeus wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius, the man to whom Egeus gives consent. Hermia wants to marry Lysander. The matter is taken to Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who says that Hermia must follow the rule of law, obey her father in this matter or be put to death. (Yikes).

Hermia and Lysander decide to run away through the forest to his aunt’s house and get married there. They tell Hermia’s friend Helena 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. Add to this is a group of sweet yokels known as Mechanicals who are preparing a play for the impending marriage of Theseus and his fiancée Hippolyta; a fairy King named Oberon and his fairy Queen named Titania who keep one-upping each other; a confused spirit named Puck and magic spells gone right (a mechanical named Bottom is turned into a donkey) and spells gone wrong (oh, don’t ask!) and finally, breathlessly, it all works out. This is not a spoiler—it’s summer, it’s the magical forest, it’s hot. Strange things happen there. What did you expect?  

The Production.  Director Peter Pasyk has filled his production with invention, wit, impish humour, bold decisions and wonderful detail. With only eight actors in the production, that means there is a lot of double and triple casting.  The audience sits on two sides of the raised playing area that is in the centre of the canopy. A light mauve silky covering covers the whole stage and whatever props are already there (kudos to set designer Patrick Lavender for his effective set). As the audience settles “Dream” by the Everly Brothers plays over the sound system. I’m smiling. Then that segues into a mere snipped of Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I’m smiling more broadly—such an impish detail. And finally, as the cast enters André Sills lets loose with a rap song that gives the whole thing a contemporary feel to it.

When the mauve covering is removed there is a large moveable trunk on stage with an imprint of the white Tom Patterson Theater canopy on the side. (I assume the same imprint of the canopy is on the other side of the trunk for the opposite portion of the audience to see). Puck, a sprightly, spirited Trish Lindström pulls stuff out of the trunk to do magic. I like that juxtaposition—the trunk with the canopy ‘printed’ on it produces magic ‘stuff’, as does the action under the canopy where we sit.

Theseus (an imposing Craig Lauzon) and his fiancée Hippolyta (a confident, coy Bahareh Yaraghi) have just stepped out of the shower. They wear luxurious, white terry-cloth robes and her hair is wrapped high in a white towel (Bravo to costume designer Lorenzo Savoini for making every single person in that audience want those robes). The couple banters. He’s accommodating. She’s cooler, contained. But then Egeus (Trish Lindström, somber, ill-tempered and balding), Hermia (Eva Foote), Lysander (Micah Woods) and Demetrius (Jonathan Mason) also arrive, wanting justice. Theseus passes on his judgement about the law and Hermia’s duty to her father. Hippolyta lets him know she’s none too happy with the decree—she turns away with an attitude and Theseus doesn’t miss that rebuff. And we’re off on a whirl-wind journey.

The cast sit around the playing area in full view of the audience as they change costumes in front of us, often at break-neck speed. Even the timing of the changes is calculated and smartly ‘directed’ so as not to give away who will play what in the next scene. Costumes are pulled out of carry-all bags by each character’s seat, or situated in places around the set.

Peter Pasyk ramps up the speed in the forest, with Helena (a lively Amaka Umeh) and Demetrius (Jonathan Mason) now joining the fray.  Lovers try to connect or escape each other. Puck tries to keep the instructions clear about who gets the juice of a certain flower in the eye to make him/her love the person he/she is supposed to love. (I know, it’s complicated—it’s the forest, it does that to you). The Mechanicals try to rehearse their play with Bottom (an exuberant André Sills) wanting to play every part with gusto. And Oberon (a commanding Craig Lauzon), the King of the Fairies arranges for the juice of a certain flower to be put in the eye of the sleeping Titania (a perceptive, knowing Bahareh Yaraghi). Oberon says the result of that juice is that:

“The next thing then she waking looks upon

(Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull,

On meddling monkey, or on busy ape)

She shall pursue it with the soul of love.”

What Titania sees when waking is Bottom, transformed into a donkey, and she is besotted.

Peter Pasyk makes a bold decision here. Rather than having Titania play it as falling helplessly under the spell, he directs Bahareh Yaraghi to play Titania as if she is on to the game and the trick, What follows is not so much Titania being in love with Bottom-the-Ass-Donkey as much as she is in lust, sexually aggressive and intoxicated with the physicality of it all. The sex is loud, raucous and a wild twist of limbs. Instead of Oberon being gleeful at his trick, he seems jealous and even embarrassed, and looks away after watching them her straddle Bottom. When Titania is ‘brought back’ out of the spell she lets Oberon know in no uncertain terms that she was wise to him. It’s a delicious moment.  I’m not sure that idea to twist the scene works completely but it’s interesting to see a director be so daring and bold.   

Sex is at the heart of what is going on in that forest. At times the four lovers are under the mauve sheet, thrashing around, gradually losing much of their clothing so that they are in their underwear at the end of it all.

When all the characters get out of that forest and return to ‘normal’ with the partners they should be with, they are clothed, joyful and dancing. They leave the audience joyful and wanting to dance themselves. This production is a dandy welcome back to the Stratford Festival.

Comment. Shakespeare is all about language. He created countless words that we use today. But our world is changing and so is language and its meaning. Words that meant one thing years ago do not have the same meaning today. In the 1890’s the word ‘gay’ meant ‘exuberantly happy’ etc. In the 20th century the word defines homosexual. Over time some words that mean one thing in one context are hurtful in other contexts. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the play the Mechanicals are preparing, one of the characters has to kiss another “through a chink in the wall.” That line is now changed to read “through a kink in the wall.” Being mindful of the power of language the word changes but the meaning of the line does not.

Shakespeare always makes us think about so many things. Welcome back.

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Runs until August 1.

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes, (no intermission)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 R Nieoczym July 26, 2021 at 10:49 am

thank you; good to know life still flows on the banks of the Thames