a midsummer night's dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Greenblatt, with Walter Borden, Maggie Huculak, Adrian Morningstar, Michelle Polak, Jonathan Eliot, Zaib Shaikh, Nicole Stamp, Sanjay Talwar, Ashley Thomson, Alison Sealy-Smith, Robert Persichini and Billy Merasty. Presented by CanStage at the High Park Amphitheatre (east of Grenadier Café). Runs to September 1, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm. Pwyc (suggested minimum $15). 416-367-1652 ext 500. Rating: NN
Before the show, the actors casually walk to their places, chat with each other, rattle metallic things with Stomp-like determination, then shout the word "dream" in various languages. No, this isn't your typical A Midsummer Night's Dream. CanStage's outdoor production of Shakespeare's comedy tries to be all-inclusive, with colour-blind casting (good), different generations of players (not always good) and a self-conscious let's-reveal-backstage theatricality (problematic).
The result is an uneven show that, despite a lot of obvious effort on and offstage, lacks magic.
Sure, the forest of trees magically sprouting on Glenn Davidson's multi-tiered set has a dreamlike feel, and Andjelija Djuric's design of Bottom's ass's head is rich.
But then the underused Billy Merasty and Alison Sealy-Smith will say lines in, respectively, Cree or a Jamaican patois; or a character will wait for a protective harness to fly in the air, much like waiting for a ride at Canada's Wonderland -- and the brief spell will be broken.
Director Richard Greenblatt may have been inspired by the tricks-up-the-sleeves elements of The Lion King, a work whose logo appears at one point in the show. But whereas that musical let our imaginations soar, this Dream keeps them earthbound.
Too bad, because he's assembled and directed a fine cast, many of whom have clear ideas about character. Sanjay Talwar and Nicole Stamp's Theseus and Hippolyta suggest the strain in their classical coupledom; the four young lovers are each carefully defined; Robert Persichini's Bottom is suitably bombastic; and Maggie Huculak glows passionately as Titania, though she has little chemistry with her Oberon (Walter Borden).
Casting kids as the fairies is cute but doesn't serve the play's poetry or text well. Neither does the sight of the actors playing instruments or pausing pensively backstage.
I'm all for non-traditional flourishes, but they've got to serve the work. These don't.