A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by William Shakespeare, directed by Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, with Maev Beaty, Antonio M. Cayonne, Kevin Hanchard, Richard Harte, Matthew Kabwe, Holly Lewis and Karen Robinson. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Dream Site, High Park. Previews through July 1, opens July 3 and runs through September 2, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm. Pwyc ($15 suggested), 14 and under free. 416-367-1652, www.canstage.com Rating: NNNNN
There's no more malleable shake speare work than A Midsummer Night's Dream - and likely no more popular a show.
A quarter-century ago, Canadian Stage mounted its first Dream In The Park, and to celebrate that anniversary the company presents a new rendition of the classic, combining a contemporary urban feel with the woodsy setting where most of the action takes place.
These annual productions nearly always take advantage of the High Park site's natural beauty, with towering trees and sometimes a full moon giving the show an extra bit of magic.
Speaking of magic, there's lots in A Midsummer Night's Dream, with its linked tales of four lovers, battling fairies and mechanicals rehearsing a tragedy filled with laughs.
"This is my fourth production of Dream," says Richard Harte
, who plays Demetrius, one of the quartet of lovers, "and it's amazing to find new ideas each time I tackle it. The piece hooks into something about the age and mystery of woods, even some dark element that strikes grown-ups, but I know that kids always love Puck and the fairy world."
"And the title suggests so much," adds Karen Robinson, who doubles as Amazon queen Hippolyta and fairy queen Titania. "So much of the action feels like a dream, an out-of-body experience on a midsummer night. There's a buoyancy to it, a sense of its being light, funny and in some ways outrageous."
This current version, directed by the talented ahdri zhina mandiela, brings an urban feel to the play, with celebrity culture and paparazzi worked into the action. It's set in a world of corporate takeovers, where the lovers are the rich kids caught up in the action of their elders.
Harte, who's worked with Shakespeare in the Rough and appeared in various Fringe and SummerWorks shows, notes that here the mechanicals are forming a Canadian Idol group or maybe a boy band with a hiphop style.
"But these mechanicals are the early rejects," laughs Robinson, known for her work with Stratford, Soulpepper and in 'Da Kink In My Hair. "You'd see them as some of the memorable contestants in Canadian Idol's audition segment."
Though the press material talks about the production's Caribbean carnival quality, Robinson sees a wider scope in mandiela's take on the material.
"The world of the play actually mirrors today's Canada, with its multiracial population. Sure, ahdri brings her Jamaican background, but she's taken advantage of so many more aspects of the script and our culture."
One of the strengths that the award-winning director brings is a background in poetry and what Harte calls "the visual qualities of words."
"Though her method isn't always traditional," he continues, "she grounds us in the realm of the play. That grounding strengthens its different elements the humour, the war of the fairies that causes an imbalance in the natural world and the lives of the lovers, the sense of the mysterious.
"Shakespeare makes it so much easier for the actors, with the action and feeling built right into the words. He's provided an architecture of poetry, and the rhythm of the show is part of the rhythm of its language."
"While we've all seen stand-and-deliver Shakespeare," Robinson offers, rolling her eyes comically, "that's not the way it was meant to be done. Too often actors are hesitant to bring themselves and their experiences to his works.
"Yet that's what makes them true hundreds of years after he wrote them, and ahdri encourages us to play with the words and the characters. My knowledge, my experiences, my mother's facial expressions they all have reality in this play."
Harte points out that the audience accepts that a production can use real personalities and modern inflections while still honouring the original.
"That's one of the reasons it's great that ahdri gives us such elbow room to create in the rehearsal hall."
"Elbow room?" giggles Robinson. "She lets us do cartwheels if we want."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
The loss of outdoor Shakespeare in Toronto