Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: (Stratford / Theatre) A Midsummer Night's Dream

(photo by Michael Cooper)
The Success of Love – Jack Shall Have Jill, Jill shall Have Jill, Jack Shall Have Jack
Stratford’s opening week ends on a supremely high note
by Dave Ross and Stuart Munro

Stratford brought their opening week to an absolutely amazing close with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare’s work has been interpreted and adapted and staged in all sorts of creative and different ways, with many of these efforts placing this story in contemporary times and locales. This year, Stratford has hit the nail on the head – hard and true – with their bold adaptation of this approachable story.

DAVE ROSS: There are simply not words to express how much I enjoyed this production. I loved it – loved loved loved it. From the moment I stepped into the Festival Theatre and had my first glimpse of the design, I knew I was in for something special. Director Chis Abraham has taken the narrative and added a frame to it – as the audience, we’re attending the wedding of two young men in a summer garden as dusk falls. As part of the celebrations, the guests put on an impromptu performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which proceeds just about as well as one would think under those circumstances – the entire production has a lovingly homegrown feel to it with a sort of polished amateur quality. I loved that Abraham respects the text, but treats it in a contemporary, irreverent manner. I loved the design by Julie Fox, which is fully immersive in creating the festive backyard garden. The soundscape  by designer Thomas Ryder Payne is perfect. All these aspects create an astounding homespun feeling to the production. Actors rarely leave the stage, instead sitting about the steps of the thrust enjoy beverages and the play unfolding before them. There is a fluidity between the guests and their roles as fairies that is just magical. 

When it comes to performances, each of the actors has their part completely nailed. Jonathan Goad’s Oberon is strong, masculine, and tender. Evan Buliung’s Titania, while camp at times, was a powerful figure on the stage. Stephen Ouimette as Bottom delivers one of the most amusing asses I’ve ever seen. The comedic timing of all the performers is spot on, particularly in slapstick moments, for which timing is crucial. 

STUART MUNRO: You’ve taken the words right out of my mouth! I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at the theatre. I loved Evan Buliung’s take on Titania, and the real tenderness he shared with Jonathan Goad’s Oberon towards the end of the second half. It’s worth noting here that Buliung and Goad share their roles with one another, and although I’m already trying to find a way to come see this production again, the chance to see this alternate casting would be reason enough. There were a few performances that didn’t stand out for me, but the overall atmosphere was so utterly charming and warm and delightful that it completely overshadowed what few issues I had with those. 

In his program notes, director Abraham talks about how, at the play’s core, this is a story of couples longing to be with the people they love. It was this fact, still very much present in today’s world, which prompted him to recast Lysander as a woman, a decision that comes across as remarkably intuitive. Likewise, his decision to set this production as an on-the-fly play in a backyard wedding gives him, and the company, the freedom to have an intense amount of fun with the text. The company looks like they’re having more fun than could be possible, and the physical comedy in this production is riotously funny. Some Shakespeare purists might find the freedom taken with the text frustrating. My advice to them is to either stay at home and read the play, or get over themselves and simply enjoy the profoundly joyous experience this production is!
DR: Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino selected “minds pushed to the edge” as his theme for this season. I’d suggest purists do the same – I think that it is very easy to get stuck on the idea of how a play should be performed. Yes, Shakespeare is wordy. Yes, he asks difficult questions in many of his plays (see King Lear). His work is seen as sacred by some. But that doesn’t mean that directors can’t have fun with it. What makes this production all the more astounding is that Abraham has managed to make this a fun, joyous evening while still asking the difficult questions, drawing attention to that core story you mention above – people longing to be with the one they love despite society telling them they can’t be. This production manages to transport the audience into the midst of a true midsummer night’s eve, to witness the success of love. To riff on a line from the play, Jack shall have Jill, or Jack, or Jill will have Jill. This production is a wonderful wrap to opening week, and I for one look forward to seeing it again at least once. You should as well.


  1. I saw it, and while I was initially very interested in the staging, I was surprised at how it played out. Everything seemed overdone, and any change in setting between scenes, a device which normally helps us to compare subplots, was absent. (A lot of staging issues, too: someone tripped over a one of the tealight candle props, where it lay on its side, "burning" conspicuously, until a character picked it up awkwardly. One of the kids lost a shoe, and had to continue dancing without until a character, again, conspicuously picked it up. Rather uncomfortably, I felt like I was watching an alternative daycare at recess.)

  2. This production sucked. All glitter, but no gold to be found because the power of the text was overshadowed by way too much 21st century pop culture intrusions.I actually walked out after 30 minutes - I wish I had been warned the whole play was changed. The title should have been followed with "A Modern Remake" and I would have never had to spend $56.00 for a play I hated.


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