Jessica Greenberg and Andrew Kushnir hope to make magic.
OFFENSIVE SHADOWS by Paul Dunn, directed by Michael Shamata, with Jessica Greenberg, Andrew Kushnir, Mark McGrinder, Jason Mitchell and Kimwun Perehinec. Presented by Studio 180 at Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Previews begin Friday (September 26), opens Wednesday (October 1) and runs to October 19, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday matinee 2:30 pm. Pwyc-$35. 416-531-1827.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, which ends with a brief, laugh-filled play and a trio of marriages, is one of Shakespeare's most joyful comedies.
But does everyone live happily ever after?
Not in Paul Dunn's Offensive Shadows, which updates the tale and looks at the pairs of lovers five years down the road.
A hit at SummerWorks 2007 and winner of the NOW Audience Choice Award, the play takes the quartet of lovers - Helena and Demetrius, Lysander and Hermia - and turns them into graduating high schoolers. We first see them couple, and then, five years later, reunite less than blissfully in the woods where they originally paired off.
For this remount, Dunn's added a prologue featuring Puck, the fairy who caused the initial confusion in the woods. He's less than happy, too, for fairies have been ignored in our more rational times.
"This Puck understands the difference between what the world thinks he ought to be and what a fairy really is," says Andrew Kushnir, who plays the part. "He wants to survive in a world that's turned its back on fairies and everything magical.
"Puck finds a void in human society and realizes that the loss of love parallels the loss of magic. He invites us humans to part with our hunger for reason and allow a sense of wonder, of magic, back into our lives."
Kushnir, whose play Foto was a recent SummerWorks favourite, is sure to understand the links between the Dream and Dunn's play; he's spent the past two summers in Canadian Stage's production of the Bard's work.
"Last year a group of actors went right from our own show to a performance of Offensive Shadows, and laughed at all the subtle links that Paul included."
"Still, you don't have to know the original to laugh at the jokes and feel the emotions of the play," adds Jessica Greenberg. She plays Helena, who first loses the love of Demetrius and then, through magic, regains it.
And while Puck doesn't appear in the second half of the play, Kushnir suggests that at some level he has invoked the lovers, offering them a chance to regain love and magic in their lives.
"Helena's grown in this new version of the play," notes Greenberg, whose work with Dunn in Hana's Suitcase led to the writing of Offensive Shadows.
"She's tough, a fighter, yet terribly dissatisfied and envious of the others, for she's been abandoned by those closest to her. Of the four, she's the only one who holds onto the possibility of magic in her life.
"It's no wonder that magic is important to her," continues Greenberg. "She won Demetrius because he's under a spell; in a sense, he's been tricked into marrying her. That would leave anyone feeling pretty crappy."
Because magic still enchants Demetrius, he talks about living in a dream; in the original, fairy queen Titania and Lysander are also affected by magic, but its charms are later removed.
"Shakespeare leaves you with lots of questions, and that's what's so satisfying in Paul's revisiting the story," offers Kushnir. "Does Demetrius ever wake up, and what happens if he does? Is Helena happy with a deluded Demetrius? Is it okay that Titania had it off with a donkey?
"In answering some of those questions, what was originally a comedy turns into something far more serious."
In Dunn's play, Lysander is the competitive jock who succeeds in business, but that doesn't satisfy his partner, Hermia, who turns into a Martha Stewart-loving dilettante who spends her time renovating their home.
It's possible, in fact, that all four lovers have connected with the wrong partners, that the problems they experience due to human frailty are more believable than lovers who disappear contentedly into the sunset.
"When you finish watching A Midsummer Night's Dream, you have a sense that Shakespeare tied up the play like a package with a big bow," says Greenberg.
"Paul rips open the package and tells us that this gift isn't yet ready to be wrapped up."