A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by William Shakespeare, adapted by Kevin Fox, Tom Lillington and D. Jeremy Smith, directed by Smith (Driftwood). Touring Ontario through August 19; see driftwoodtheatre.com for schedule. Pwyc. See listing. Rating: NNN
It may be a line from another Shakespeare play (Twelfth Night), but Driftwood Theatre's production of the Bard's A Midsummer Night's Dream takes to heart the idea that "if music be the food of love, play on."
The innovation in this Dream, adapted by Kevin Fox, Tom Lillington and director D. Jeremy Smith, is the extensive use of a cappella musical settings of some of the original spoken text and the fairy songs.
The play, one of Shakespeare's most popular works - another version's running in High Park - deals with two sets of lovers wandering through the woods; their initially tangled relationships are first confused further and then set right by a band of fairies whose rulers, Oberon and Titania, have their own amatory squabbles. There's also a group of workmen, rehearsing with their leader (Helen King) a play for the upcoming nuptials of royals Theseus and Hippolyta, who become caught up in the forest's magic.
Smith's production is innovative from the start, with Bottom (Andrew Scanlon), the most comical of the workmen, conjuring up the four lovers (Nathan Carroll, Madeleine Donohue, Christian Feliciano and Stephanie Seaton) at the four points of the central playing area. The fairy Puck (Paul Dunn), Oberon's minion, watches with such earnestness that we know he's going to take a hand in the action that follows.
The acting company is a compact one, with the lovers also appearing as four of the rubber-booted workmen and also voicing Titania's attendant fairies, seen as dolls who fly around on long bamboo poles. There's also the usual doubling of Theseus/Oberon (Steven Burley) and Hippolyta/Titania (Alexis Gordon).
The language is generally well handled, though some of the lovers are more successful in conveying their emotions than their words. That's never the case with Donohue, whose Helena always seems to be in the moment; one idea flows clearly into the next.
The other standouts are Burley's commanding Oberon, Dunn's hyperactive Puck and Scanlon's Bottom, who plays up the character's comedy but also provides him an occasional touching moment.
And the a cappella music? It's often cleverly devised, well sung by the company and much of it works, especially the material involving the fairies. The first confrontation between Oberon and Titania is a series of jazzy riffs, passionately performed by Burley and Gordon, and their final duet is appropriately warm and winning.
The tunes for the mortal lovers are less convincing; while they're attractively performed, little's gained from a musical adaptation of the lines. During the Pyramus and Thisbe play, in fact, the addition of music deflates some of the play's surefire laughs.