A Midsummer Nights Dream is completely enchanting

A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare in the Ruff). At Withrow Park (725 Logan). Runs to September 3..


A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare in the Ruff). At Withrow Park (725 Logan). Runs to September 3. Pwyc. ruffindream.bpt.me. Rating: NNNN

For the sixth year in a row, Shakespeare in the Ruff have transfigured their east-end haunt of Withrow Park, reliably producing one of the most fun, engaging and moving outdoor offerings of the Bard. This year, the troupe conjure up A Midsummer Nights Dream, and as weve come to expect, its an enchanting experience that will delight both newcomers and Shakespeare aficionados with strong, absorbing performances and magical design.

Fans of the company will be glad to see Andrew Joseph Richardson (Richard III, Macbeth: Walking Shadows) back in fine form after taking a break last season. He plays Theseus, the Athenian Duke whose impending marriage to Hippolyta (Michelle Polak) provokes a quartet of young lovers to take to the fairy-laden woods, and Oberon, the Fairy King who then comically misdirects their romantic interests with magic spells.

Polak, a veteran of many Shakespeare productions including with the original Shakespeare in the Rough that inspired this current generation of Ruffians, provides another strong support especially as Titania the Fairy Queen. But its Nikki Duvals hilarious turn as Bottom, the vainglorious lead actor in the plays famous subplot about a ragtag theatre troupe preparing a performance, that steals the show, and consistently scores the biggest laughs. Known for her recent appearances on CBCs Workin Moms, Duval has serious stage presence and killer comedy chops that under the direction of Megan Watson keeps the fast-paced funny dialed to eleven.

The shows magic is accentuated by its most prominent set piece a giant inflatable orb harnessed between two trees in the centre of the performance space, that as night falls in the park becomes beautifully illuminated to represent the moon as well as by glowing handheld spheres that Oberon and his sprightly underling Puck (Tim Welham) toss around to dazzling effect and use to cast their spells. (Designs are by Nick Blais.) Short bursts of symbolic contemporary movement by choreographer Patricia Allison nicely capture the manic madness and chaos of the romantic tangle, especially during transitions. And overall, the production playfully highlights the frustrations and follies of falling in love, but never forgets the fun of it.

Another reason to love Shakespeare in the Ruff is that their grand vision extends beyond a singular production, and over the years theyve done a brilliant job of developing an impressive comprehensive slate of community-building and training programs around their season, including their Young Ruffian apprenticeship program for teenagers, and the Guerrilla Ruff Squad for recent post-secondary acting grads.

When it comes to Torontos outdoor summer Shakespeare game, the Ruffians are hard to beat, and Midsummer only bolsters their status as an enduring summer tradition.

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