A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM By William Shakespeare, directed by ahdri zhina mandiela (Canadian Stage). At the Dream Site, High Park. To August 31. Pwyc ($20 recommended). 416-367-1652, canstage.com. Rating: NNN
For 26 summers the dream in HighPark has been one of Toronto’s most unique and picturesque theatre experiences.
And since the stage is right smack in the middle of the only place in the city that could pass for an enchanted forest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the ideal show for the setting.
That said, director ahdri zhina mandiela has needlessly created a flimsy, semi-futuristic urban scenario that at times is jarringly out of sync with the Bard’s script.
The result is confusing. Theseus is an avid golfer, Egeus rings up her therapist and Helena carries around a yoga mat. At the same time, none of the Rude Mechanicals have cellphones when they need to locate the missing Bottom, the most advanced weapons are swords, and titles like “the Duke of Athens” are obviously out of date.
Much of the original Midsummer is magical and requires serious suspension of disbelief, but the choice of where the supernatural boundary lies should be left to the playwright (because his choices are internally consistent).
Despite this overarching problem, a strong ensemble cast makes the show entertaining.
Matthew Kabwe elicits tons of laughs as the spotlight-hogging Bottom, and Maev Beaty plays an awesomely awkward Helena. (Her slapstick fight scene with Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius is another highlight.)
Mandiela, influenced by Peter Brook’s famous 1970 white-box production, should have heeded Uta Hagen’s warning about updating the classics: it’s best not to.