Fond & foolish love & sport in Shakespeare BASH’d delightful, cheeky, passionate A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julia Nish-Lapidus. Photo by Eliza Martin.

 

Shakespeare BASH’d opens its 2019-20 season with its own take on a magical, wacky fun Shakespeare favourite with its production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Catherine Rainville and James Wallis, choreographed by John Wamsley, with music composition and direction by Hilary Adams—on for a short run at the Monarch Tavern. As fairies make sport of mortals, so too do royals make fun of commoners in this delightful, cheeky and passionate tale of love, transformation and jumping out of your comfort zone.

Theseus (a proud and regal Nick Nahwegahbow) and Hippolyta (Hilary Adams, in royal Amazon queen warrior form) are preparing for their wedding. A meeting with wedding planner Philostrate (a fastidious and fabulous John Wamsley) are interrupted when noble Egeus (Megan Miles, with intimidating, harsh, unforgiving my-way-or-the-highway parenting) arrives, requesting judgement on her daughter Hermia’s (a feisty and forthright Eliza Martin) disobedience regarding an arranged marriage to popular young noble Demetrius (Mussié Solomon, bringing an edge of slick arrogance to the player vibe). Hermia is in love with Lysander (a somewhat nerdy, but sweet, turn from Justin Mullen); meanwhile, Hermia’s best friend Helena (a vulnerable, yet crafty and resourceful Nyiri Karakas) is in love with Demetrius, who now scorns her. Theseus orders Hermia to obey her mother or else face death or life in a convent. Hermia and Lysander hatch a plan to flee Athens—which Helena divulges to Demetrius in hopes of winning his love—and the four young people end up lost in the woods.

Also in the woods are a group of Athenian tradespeople, gathered to rehearse a play they hope will be chosen as entertainment for the royal wedding. Amiable and organized director Peter Quince (Miles) assigns parts to Bottom (an adorably goofy, child-like turn from Julia Nish-Lapidus, bringing considerable clowning skills into play), Snug (Adams), Snout (Nahwegahbow) and Flute (Wamsley).

Unseen by the mortals in the forest, a battle of wills rages among the fairies, between its King Oberon (Kate McArthur, combining an imperious, passionate presence with a soft, romantic heart) and Queen Titania (a fierce and sensuous performance from Zara Jestadt). He wants the young Indian boy in her care as a page for himself; and she refuses, having adopted the boy when his votary mother died. Coming upon Demetrius repelling Helena’s attentions, Oberon orders Puck (a gently playful Michelle Mohammed) to fetch a magic flower, and use its juice to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. When Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, both young men now love Hermia—leading to strife and betrayal revealed for the two women, and the possibility of a mortal battle between the men. Oberon has also played with Titania, using the flower to make her fall in love with the next creature she sees—which turns out to be Bottom, who Puck has turned into a donkey! Learning of Puck’s mistake with the young lovers, Oberon orders her to make it right; and having secured the young Indian boy from Titania, releases her from his spell and Bottom from her donkey persona.

Emerging from the woods, the action shifts to the wedding and a play within the play, where the sorted out lovers are given blessings, and the tradesfolk are invited to perform their comical tragedy, to heckles from the nobles—and hilariously over-the-top performances from Bottom as the hero and Flute as the heroine; and shy, bumbling turns from the terrified Snug and slow-witted snout (outstanding comedic chops, with big LOLs from Adams, Nahwegahbow, Nish-Lapidus and Wamsley here).

Featuring minimal, but very effective costuming, props and set, the magic is highlighted by Adams’ otherworldly music composition and brisk, tight staging. It’s always a good time with Shakespeare BASH’d and its ensemble, with text and intention-focused, accessible productions that make for an enjoyable and engaging theatrical experience, as well as fresh and contemporary takes on the Shakespeare cannon. You may have seen this play before, but not like this.

Just as the fairies make sport of mortals, so too do the nobles with the commoners—all in good fun, with the magic creatures making things right, while the nobles appreciate the tradespeople’s’ passion and enthusiasm. The magic happens in the transformations—offering different perspectives that can change points of view, especially when one is thrown out of one’s comfort zone.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at the Monarch Tavern until November 17; please note the 7:00 pm curtain time. Advanced tickets are sold out, but if you come early, the good folks of Shakespeare BASH’d will try to squeeze you in (doors open at 6:30 pm).

ICYMI: Check out Arpital Ghosal’s interview with actor Zara Jestadt on SesayArts.

Up next for the company: A Very Merry Karaoke BASH’d (Friday, December 13 at 8:00 pm) at The Theatre Centre

Cymbeline (February 4-9) at Junction City Music Hall 

And a great chance to support a local theatre company: check out Shakespeare BASH’d’s Indiegogo campaign for the 2019-20 season.

Women’s stories across the ages in the sharp-witted, illuminating & timely Top Girls

Jordi O’Dael (Gret), Jennifer Fahy (Patient Griselda), Charlotte Ferrarei (Pope Joan), Alison Dowling (Marlene), Lisa Lenihan (Isabella Bird), Tea Nguyen (Lady Nijo). Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Bec Brownstone. Lighting design by Jay Hines. Projection design by Madison Madhu. Photo by Bruce Peters.

 

Alumnae Theatre Company opened its timely, updated production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls last night, directed by Alysa Golden, assisted by DJ Elektra. Sharp-witted, illuminating and theatrical, Top Girls is a both an observation and commentary of women’s lived experiences across the ages. Written in 1982 and given a contemporary framing in this production, it’s both funny and sad how little has changed for women in terms of opportunity, oppression, and the expectations of the spaces they occupy and the roles they play—a timely undertaking in the age of #MeToo and #timesup.

We open on a fantasy dinner party, hosted by Marlene (Alison Dowling), who is celebrating her promotion at the Top Girls employment agency. Her guests include the fastidious Victorian world traveller Isabella Bird (Lisa Lenihan); 13th century Japanese concubine and material girl Lady Nijo (Tea Nguyen); Gret, the coarse, lusty subject of Breughel painting “Dulle Griet” (Jordi O’Dael); the esoteric, philosophical Pope Joan (Charlotte Ferrarei); and the unquestioningly obedient Griselda, from Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Tale” (Jennifer Fahy). The women share stories of love, marriage, motherhood, travel, oppression and hardship as they eat, drink and descend into drunken stupor.

Shifting into present day, we meet Marlene’s niece Angie (Rebekah Reuben), who lives in the country with her mother, Marlene’s sister Joyce (Nyiri Karakas), and spends most of her time with best friend Kit (Naomi Koven), who is several years younger. More than just a handful of a teenager, Angie is troubled, young for her age, and adrift in her life; mistrusting and disrespecting of her mother, she dreams of getting away and learning the truth about herself.

We get a glimpse of the Top Girls employment agency, populated by female recruiters, the office abuzz with Marlene’s upcoming move to her own office and greater things. Not everyone is thrilled, however, and a male colleague’s wife Mrs. Kidd (Lenihan) pays a visit to protest his being passed over. Marlene’s colleagues Win (Claire Keating) and Nell (Grace Thompson) interview prospective recruits— including a couple of ambitious, vague 20-somethings (April Rebecca) and an overlooked, undervalued 40-something (Peta Mary Bailey). Angie arrives on the scene, having gone AWOL from home and inviting herself to stay at Marlene’s.

Jumping a year into the past, Marlene visits Joyce and Angie—tricked by Angie with an invitation that supposedly came from Joyce. The family dynamic of estrangement between the estranged sisters comes into focus, as does a life-changing family secret.

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Naomi Koven (Kit), Nyiri Karakas (Joyce). Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Bec Brownstone. Lighting design by Jay Hines. Projection design by Madison Madhu. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Lovely work all around from this considerable, all-female cast, with several actors playing multiple characters. Stand-outs include Dowling as the sharp, bold and unapologetic Marlene, who’s executed some major shifts in her life to get where she is, in spite of the naysaying and resentment from family and male colleagues. Reuben is both exasperating and poignant as the immature, lost Angie; like her mother, we come to worry for her future—she can’t hide out and play in the backyard with her little friend Kit (played with sweet, wise child energy by Koven) forever. Karakas brings a home-spun rural edge to the gruff, worn-out Joyce; unlike Marlene, who couldn’t get out of town fast enough, Joyce stayed in their hometown to raise Angie.

Keating and Thompson make a great pair as the gossipy, snippy and ambitious Top Girls recruiters, interviewing their respective prospects with the impervious attitude of entitled gate keepers. And O’Dael brings both great comedy and drama as Gret, with her hearty appetite, lust for life and hair-raising tale of her campaign against the demons of Hell.

Golden’s theatrical, multimedia staging is both technically effective and dramatically compelling, as scenes shift from fantasy to reality, and present to past—Teodoro Dragonieri’s set largely constructed from doors, an apt image for the production. Scene changes feature a spritely young Dancer (a confident, mischievous and willowy Estella Haensel); and Viv Moore’s elegant, expressive choreography is playfully and tenderly accompanied by Richard Campbell’s sound design. Projected backgrounds (projection design by Madison Madhu) mark the change of space and passage of time, form urban to rural, and light to dark.

While the lives, times and stories of these women vary dramatically, crossing a broad range of lived experience, the themes of class, female identity and male entitlement emerge as common threads. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is comic in its tragedy that, in 2019, half of the world’s population is still held back, to varying—and sometimes violent and criminal—degrees, from achieving its full potential. On the upside, we see these women persevere and push back—breaking rules and shattering expectations to thrive and live their dreams.

Top Girls continues this weekend on the Alumnae mainstage until February 2; get tickets online, by calling 416-364-4170 (ext. 1) or in-person at the box office one hour before curtain time (cash only).

The run includes a pre-show Panel “Women, Power and Success in the Age of Me Too” on January 24 at 6:30 pm; and a post-show talkback with the director and cast on January 27.

Check out the trailer by Nicholas Porteous:

 

Department of corrections: The original post misnamed the lighting designer as Jan Hines in the two photo credits; it’s actually Jay Hines. This has been corrected.