Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: (Ottawa) A Midwinter's Dream Tale

(photo credit: Andrew Alexander)

Well, Virginia...
Merging makes for a romp for Company of Fools
by Jim Murchison

A famous 1897 editorial response to an 8 year old Virginia O’Hanlon in the New York Sun proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the existence of Santa Claus. Recent films and editorials tell us there is no Shakespeare! The Company of Fools must take us for a pack of idiots. A Midwinter’s Dream Tale is allegedly written by Bill Shakespeare and a Company of Fools. Indeed! Everyone knows Shakespeare doesn’t exist. William Shakespeare is a marketing device; he’s a fictional character dressed in a dandy’s clothes and a ridiculously large collar used to sell a product: the Don Cherry of the 16th century. He’s an interesting, colourful character but not real in any way. Oh well, regardless of who actually authored this production; merging A Midsummer Night’s Dream with The Winter’s Tale is an entertaining and lively romp. 

Well, ice cream of course!

As you step into the theatre, a whimsical winter wonderland designed by Ivo Valentik surrounds you. There are treacherous icy paths through winter woodlands. Magnificent snowflakes hang about the stage and over the audience. Giant stalagmites jut out at angles from the floor upstage centre. Icy thrones at the left of the house await the arrival of the King and Queen. 

What would a couple of fools be looking for in a frosty setting like this? Well, ice cream of course! Most people can tell you that hot food on a hot day helps the body to regulate itself, but any clown can tell you that cold inside and cold outside creates equilibrium. Our heroes are Pomme Frit (Scott Florence) and ‘Restes (Margo Macdonald) and their quest for frozen treats takes them through a fairy land in the domain of the mischievous Puck (Jesse Buck), Titania (Kelly Rigole) Oberon (Adrian Proszowski) dusted with a chorus of fairies. 

Shakespeare’s ghost writing merely provides a clever framework of the story.

The play credits Shakespeare, but draws as much from current pop culture. The references from Star Wars, Seinfeld, pop music and modern technology make the story accessible to everyone. Shakespeare’s ghost writing merely provides a clever framework of the story.

The play does have some clever moments in the first act but there is a fractured quality. Some of the transitions are less than seamless and some pace is lost acquainting us with the characters.  I wasn’t sure if the actor’s were having difficulty getting started or if Al Connors' direction lacked some focus. By intermission I was certainly enchanted by the characters of Pomme and ‘Restes, but felt something was missing. The second act captured me totally and made me believe. The cues were sharp, the choreography crisp and the interaction with the audience was brilliant. I believe the first act will catch up a bit as the run goes on.

They are one of those pairs that show their affection more in the way they bicker than in maudlin mush. 

One of the things that old actors and vaudevillians tell you is to never borrow anything from someone else. You have to steal it and make it yours. Scott Florence steals from Peter Sellers, Karen Kain and Bud Abbott equally and unapologetically. Pomme captures the hearts of the audience with graceful charm and refuses to give it back. His arrogance is whimsically Canadian. He never forgets to thank us for recognizing his brilliance or to curtsey in appreciation.  Margo Macdonald’s ‘Restes is also a blend of classic characters, most notably to me, Stan Laurel, Lou Costello and Clem Kadiddlehopper.  Pomme and ‘Restes are two supreme clowns in the classic tradition. Their love for each other and the symbiosis of their characters is a pleasure to see. They are one of those pairs that show their affection more in the way they bicker than in maudlin mush. 

There are many tasks and dangers before our heroes: consulting the Oracle, rescuing the Queen’s baby, battling the abominable snowman and more. But two distractions always intrude on their primary tasks ‘Restes love of ice cream and frozen poles. Pomme will need all his strength to keep him on track. The cast supports the action of the primary characters and they scare or lure them onto the correct path. The most notable example is when Puck, cleverly transformed into the abominable snowman by one of Oberon’s spells, is forced into a game of charades with ‘Restes. Jesse Buck’s perfect body language and facial expression demonstrate his glee and frustration when his garbled monster mouth fails him.

The audience is left with no choice but to love the show, because the cast makes them one of the principal characters.

Rebecca Miller’s lighting design adds magic. The light is bright and bouncy by day, dark and ominous by night and there is even a prison of lasers that effectively traps our Queen Titania.  One of the most effectively lit scenes however is pure genius in its simplicity. One flashlight shared between two skilled clowns is a remarkable dramatic device that has to be seen to be appreciated.

The second Act is an absolute blizzard of fun from start to finish, and the ending is a total treat, figuratively and literally. The audience is left with no choice but to love the show, because the cast makes them one of the principal characters. From the time we discover how Pomme and ‘Restes met until the final bow the time flies as if an hour was a minute; and you are spellbound.  It is the Christmas season after all; a time of miracles; I believe in fairies, monsters, magic and yes, Virginia, there is a William Shakespeare. He lives in the hearts of clowns and fools everywhere.

Take some time in the gallery and enjoy the beautiful photographic exhibit of Adrienne Heron and please, if you can, The Fools would welcome any contribution you can make to The Actor’s Fund.

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