Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park opened for their 30th season in Toronto on Thursday, June 29, 2012 with their modern-take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a light-hearted tale with much physical comedy. Arguably one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most accessible comedies, the performance, directed by Richard Rose, successfully made use of a 21st century wardrobe (Lysander wore an AC/DC t-shirt), sight gags and acrobatic feats from the actors, which resulted in a high-octane delivery with plenty of laughs.
Shakespeare’s tale of fairies who dabble in the fates of various lovers is ideally performed at the High Park amphitheatre. Karyn McCallum’s minimalist set with a surrounding hedge incorporated the natural elements and became a leaping hurdle for many of the actors. Huge, blossoming flowers that emerged from the stage and hedge when the lovers meet at night, playfully underscored the fantastical nature of the forest. Highlighting the organic nature of the play within the park, several actors sat among the crowd before the show and then mounted the stage as their lines were cued.
Sarah Sherman as Helena, clad in High-Park-appropriate jogging attire, deftly executed the deliberateness of the determined lover, particularly as she powerwalked on and off the stage, and then captured her subsequent exasperation as a result of the romantic mix-ups in the forest. Eric Morin delivered a strong performance as Lysander, infusing him with explosive sensuality.
Pierre Simpson, Richard Lee and Mark Crawford as the stumblebum labourers turned amateur actors were hands-down scene-stealers who charmed with their choppy deliveries and falsetto voices. In a brilliant feat of casting, the physically-incompatible labourers sputtered and tripped through their lines from The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in marked accents including Polish and French, engaging an innocent audience member to take on the role of the fierce lion. The scene culminated in a strategically-placed kiss at the Wall, which was sheer slapstick. John Cleland as Nick Bottom, the ringleader of this play-within-a-play, brought clownish robustness and exuberance to Shakespeare’s well-loved simpleton. In a fitting celebration of the Diamond Jubilee (and only appearing on opening night), Queen Elizabeth II (played by a very-well-made-up actor) deigned to attend the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.
With no intermission, the running time was approximately 90 minutes; however Rose’s swift direction resulted in fast-paced timing with no lags.
Shakespeare in High Park’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed at the High Park amphitheatre until Sunday, September 2, 2012 from Tuesday to Sunday at 8 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m. Bring a picnic basket and blanket (no chairs or alcohol) and get there early to secure a spot on the hill. Admission is pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $20.