So far in 2018 I’ve seen four Shakespeare productions and I’ve written about none of them! The first three were all good Shakespeare shows with top quality actors and clear staging. If my goal in watching ten million Shakespeare shows a year is just to watch plays that tell the story really well then all of the shows succeeded. But I like watching Shakespeare that makes me see the story and the characters differently and The Chekhov Collective’s Midsummer Night’s Dream made me think about the play differently.
A midwinter Midsummer with a strong focus on character and movement. It was enchanting from start to finish and had some beautiful theatre magic moments. The set was a simple white floor with white translucent curtains surrounding the theatre. One wooden chair was downstage right and lit faintly at the top of the show with the rest of the theatre lit up teal. I also want to give a shout out to the sound design by Rob Bertola which was incredible. I’m going to talk more about the set in a bit because it blew my mind later in the show.
The reason this play was a standout to me was the framing. It begins with Hermia (played by Natasha Greenblatt) standing against one of the white walls and Puck (Elizabeth Saunders) facing away from the audience watching her while seated in the chair I spoke about earlier. For the sake of this, I’m going to say Puck but … I don’t think it’s Puck. The beginning of the play starts with them in an out-of-world space. It does not take place in the Midsummer world but in its own space and time. Puck stands up slowly and leads both Hermia and the audience into the world of Midsummer with the help of a beautiful movement sequence where the rest of the cast are slowly revealed behind the curtain. It was stunning!
These little out of world moments keep popping up in between the events taking place in Midsummer between Hermia and Puck. At first, I was like, this is cool but what does it mean? One thing it did change for me substantially was how much I paid attention to Hermia. I mean, no offense to Hermia as a character, but I’m usually all about my girl Helena when I watch a Midsummer. Hermia tends to float between “I’m in love” and “I’m angry” which tends to limit actors playing the role by no fault of their own. But this version of Midsummer put Hermia front and centre which I thought was such a nice breath of fresh air. However, this does not answer my earlier what does it mean question. This Midsummer Night’s dream “it was all a dream-ed” us! Or at least that is how I’m reading it. Puck was not Puck and Hermia was not Hermia but Hermia instead was just a girl who had this fantastical dream and wakes up at the end and the dream is over.
(I still think Liz’s non-Puck character was magical though since she was still given the final monologue of the piece and seemed to initiate the magical moments). Full disclosure: Liz is a friend and I honestly would watch her in a one-woman Shakespeare show where she plays every role. She’s such a joy to watch perform.
In one of these little non-Hermia/Puck snippets, Puck warns of Oberon’s impending arrival as we transition from Athens into forest time. A couple of lights came on behind the curtains and the lighting shifted into a different hue. Even the chair begins to levitate into the air! And then boom – they hit you with the real magic moment. A door on downstage left swings open and a GIANT blanket of fabric sweeps across the stage. It was a bunch of different fabrics all sewn together into this beautiful forest mess. I didn’t even think much when I read in the program Textile Artist but Roxanne Ignatius is a textile artist. I gasped when this happened. It was just a great theatre moment and a total transformation of the space.
I’m going to talk about the rest of the cast for a moment because it was really a great ensemble. Hippolyta/Titania (Rena Polley) was regal, self-assured, and had a great relationship with Theseus/Oberon (Paul Amos). I always like a Hippolyta who is completely not into Theseus but I really enjoyed the two of them finding common ground by the end. It felt like a nice and natural progression. I also loved the Oberon and Puck relationship in this piece. Gender-bending Puck just changes the dynamic and added some hilarious sexual playfulness between the two characters. There were also some actual magic tricks done on stage with the love flower and it was so good! It worked great and I felt like a kid watching in wonderment.
There were also some nice changes made during the mechanical scenes. In this version, Bottom (Zach Counsil) is worshipped by his castmates for his talent and poor Peter Quince (Michael Man) has to compete in order to be the leader. It was a nice change from the usual Bottom annoys everyone but especially Quince route. The play scene at the end was also lots of fun. I loved Thisbe (Jesse Nerenberg) getting way too into the kiss with Pyramus and then saying they completely missed each other’s lips and only kissed the wall. And I also looooved Quince having the hots for Hippolyta and trying to woo her with his dog while playing the man in the moon. Honestly, I would easily leave my relationship if I was ever offered a dog so, like, girl same. Michael Man was particularly hilarious in this show and I would love to see him in some more Shakespeare shows after seeing him in High Park last summer too.
Overall, I loved this show and found it exciting and different. It was great to see Midsummer presented in an intimate space. I think it succeeded with a lot of what it was trying to do and I found the cast entirely charming.