PASSE MURAILLE'S A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by William Shakespeare, directed by Kate Lynch, with Catherine Fitch, Diane Flacks, Ruth Madoc-Jones, Karen Robinson, Waneta Storms, Camille Stubel and Kristen Thomson. Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 1) and runs to November 18, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $21-$30, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
the estrogen energy charging through Theatre Passe Muraille these days would give Xena and Gabrielle an extra jolt of power. And it's all being put to the service of the Bard.
Bringing a long-time dream to fruition, director Kate Lynch leads a group of some of Toronto's strongest women performers in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
There is a historical irony here. The all-female production inverts the sure-fire comedy's first staging in Elizabethan London, when theatre practice dictated that men play all the parts.
"The female hormones fill the rehearsal space and we can't stop laughing at each other," says Camille Stubel, who plays Lysander, one of the work's quartet of lovers, as well as the male Snug and a fairy.
"But Kate's central reason for doing it is that in a romantic comedy like the Dream, women would go further with the comedy than men would."
Doing Shakespeare is hard enough, but here most of the cast members play three roles, performing in the interconnected worlds of the lovers, the fairies and the mechanicals. The most tangled narrative knot involves two romantic couples who fall in and out of love based on their own inclinations and a magical fairy potion. But Stubel's been there, having played all three witches in a version of Macbeth.
"We can't stop reacting in a female way," says Stubel. "One day someone hit her head, and the others were all over her playing mother -- "Oh, get a cushion! Does she want some tea? Make sure she's not hurt!'
"We often forget about the one man in the rehearsals, musician Rick Sacks. We got carried away one day and started flashing each other. He just sat there in the corner and giggled. He's the one we apologize to for all the generalizations we make about men."
Still, they make them.
"Because we're all the same gender," says Catherine Fitch, who's the romantically confused Helena, Quince and another fairy, "we see things in the play's male/female relationships that male actors wouldn't. The avenues of how to connect and the tactics of dealing with someone in an intimate way have a different kind of clarity for us."
This isn't the first time local audiences have seen gender-reversed takes on Shakespearean works. Among them, Vinetta Strombergs helmed an all-female Julius Caesar in the mid-80s, and a decade later Richard Rose did some gender-swapping in a fascinating version of King Lear.
And how does Lynch's cast get into the male roles?
"Working on movement with Viv Moore gave us a chance to improvise," recalls Fitch, a comic knockout in Morwyn Brebner's Our Father/Matador Love, and whose film work includes South Of Wawa.
"We became men at the stock market, a pool hall, a cocktail party -- even a self-help group. That work gave me the freedom to explore with a new sort of physical vocabulary. The main thing is to create Quince as a character, not just a man."
Clear characterization is pivotal, since there are no costume changes to show when an actor changes from one role to another. And the performers have to remember those changes even when they're not their own, especially in a final act that brings several sets of characters together onstage.
"Kate, who wanted the production to be simple, kept paring it down more and more," says Stubel. "It's a real challenge to balance the work's poetry with the physicality of our different roles, both of which have to be second nature when we perform."
Adds Fitch, "We all help each other travel down the most daring and funny roads as we explore the piece, and the size of Shakespeare's script lets us go pretty far."