by Lynn on August 24, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Kew Gardens Park (at the Gazebo), Queen St. E., Toronto, Ont. Produced by Driftwood Theatre Group. Plays in Toronto Aug. 24.

Written by Jeremy Smith and Steven Gallagher

Directed by Steven Gallagher

Musical director, Tom Lillington

Production designed by Carlyn Rahusaar Routledge

Lighting by Connor Price-Kelleher

Original music by Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington

Cast: Jeremy Smith

Buoyant, thoughtful, moving, funny, special.

All good things must come to an end. I just don’t know why after about 29 years, Jeremy Smith’s wonderful summer Bard on the Bus Series has to be one of them, ending this weekend with Living with Shakespeare.

For almost every summer, except for that damned pandemic, Jeremy Smith and his troupe of intrepid actors, creators and stage hands, have piled into a bus and performed a Shakespeare play around the province in various parks etc.  Jeremy Smith chooses a play by Shakespeare (usually), distills it to 90 minutes and directs it as well (quite often).

He has presented such works as: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale and Love’s Labours Lost, to name a few. He wraps it up this summer with Living with Shakespeare, his one-man show in which he explains, illuminates and details, how the whole idea came about.

The overall theme of the summer series seems to be “good people connected by great work.” It’s all done on a shoestring. But as a wise woman said as we got into conversation, “Jeremy Smith has taken that shoestring and fashioned a satin bow” with it to wrap up his glorious productions.

He came to Shakespeare in a perfect way—he hated him initially. The Merchant of Venice was the first play he read in school and he didn’t understand a word of it. Jeremy Smith’s background till then was in French school, not French immersion, but completely French. So finally enrolling in an English school and reading The Merchant of Venice was ‘Greek’ to him. He was lost. But he found his way to Shakespeare in high school and in a way, Shakespeare took over his life.

Jeremy Smith was half-way through his university theatre programme when he decided to form his summer theatre series doing a Shakespeare play around the province. His father helped with the business plan. He describes his father as “Puck” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream—fun-loving, joyful, optimistic.

Since then Shakespeare has been there in Jeremy’s life, guiding, instructing, frustrating, disappointing, rejuvenating, buoying him up, bringing him down, but filling his life. He learned how to be a leader of people through Shakespeare’s plays; he learned how to urge on his actors when they were at a low ebb; and he’s learned that such absorption has taken him away from other important things in his life.  And so it’s time to make this the last Bard on the Bus tour. Jeremy Smith goes out with a bang leaving us to cheer and give a little whimper.

Carlyn Rahusaar Routledge has created the most elaborate set. It fits elegantly around and on the Gazebo at Kew Gardens Park.  Wood steps lead up to the gazebo and there is pale blue chalk on the steps indicating the show’s title, who wrote it, directed it and how long it will play there. The Gazebo is full of books, the plays of Shakespeare, etc., a bust of Shakespeare, a skull, a plush green chair with a crown casually hung on one of the corners. There is a piano up there with Tom Lillington providing wonderful accompaniment and comments sometimes.

Jeremy Smith bursts onto the stage over the roar of a motorcycle sound. He addresses Shakespeare in the distance to explain himself or at least listen to Smith explain how Shakespeare has filled his life. Jeremy Smith and Steven Gallagher have created a script full of wit and whimsy in telling how it all began. Steven Gallagher directs with economy, energy but doesn’t get in the way of Jeremy Smith in his lovely performance.

There are sweet stories of success; heartbreaking stories of disappointment; stories of things that went wrong and those that went right. Common to all of them is the resolve, tenacity, determination, impish imagination and wonderful decency of Jeremy Smith who discovered Shakespeare and wanted to bring his glorious plays to good people. That he has done, beautifully. It’s been a privilege to have seen so many of Jeremy Smith’s productions of Shakespeare and share his love of the work.

Driftwood Theatre Group presents:

Plays Aug. 24 at Kew Gardens Park (Toronto)

Then finishes in Burlington on Aug. 27.

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