A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare in High Park/Canadian Stage). At the High Park Amphitheatre. Runs to September 2. Pwyc ($20 sugg). 416-367-1652. See listing. Rating: NNNN
To celebrate 30 years of Shakespeare in High Park, now an indispensable summer fixture, Canadian Stage has wisely enlisted veteran director Richard Rose to accentuate the humour and magic in the Bard's best-known comedy.
Unlike previous Dream productions, traditional stagings or haphazard transpositions of the plot to another era, Rose's version offers a third way: setting the story in a fantasy world with no clear time or place and amping up the tongue-in-cheek essence of the play.
The classic tale follows two young couples deep into an enchanted wood where their affections become scrambled by magical fairies.
Nearby, a ragtag group of actors rehearse a play and become entangled in the game of mistaken identities.
While the group of courtly lovers are entertaining enough (Eric Morin's dopey rock star Lysander is a clear audience favourite), John Cleland's boisterous, early 20th-century-styled Nick Bottom - the diva of the theatre troupe - steals the show. His hilarious, over-the-top banter with uptight director Pierre Le Coing (Pierre Simpson) is a perfect comic pairing, and results in the biggest laughs.
A number of inventive set elements by Karyn McCallum contribute to the fantasy: dense foliage around the edges of the stage allow for rapid and surprising entrances and exits, and large, colourful flowers grow high above the stage, signalling an Alice In Wonderland air of surreal nature.
Capped off by dazzling lighting (especially in the closing moments) by designer Jason Hand, Rose's Dream casts a wonderful, powerful spell that's a fun and fitting celebration of three decades of summer magic.