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- Title: Summer night Dream
- Written by: William Shakespeare
- Director: scott bellis
- The cast includes: Heidi Damayo, Olivia Hutt, Christopher Allen, Emily Dallas, Carly Street, Kate Besworth, Billy Marchenski and Sarah Roa
- Company: bard on the beach
- Event: BMO Main Stage at Vanier Park/Sen̓áḵw
- City: Vancouver
- Year: Until September 24
- COVID-19 measures: None
Consider everything we’ve been missing during two dark years of theater: the spectacle and possibility of live performance, the group experience of laughter and excitement, and the dreamy allure of it all. Even if you resist the idea that theater is a place where magic can happen because it’s too sentimental, I think we can offer some freedom in these difficult times. The world has been and still is a rotten place. I would like to go somewhere for a couple of hours and forget everything!
For these reasons and more, Summer night Dream feels like the perfect play to reopen Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, after two dark summers of COVID-19. Sleep it is also an important work in the history of the festival: the one with which it was inaugurated in 1990, the work that often marks important anniversaries of the festival (10 years, 25 years) and the work that was days away from starting rehearsals when the world was closed in March 2020.
Summer night Dream, which opened last week, is the only production on the Bard’s main stage this season (there are usually two). It is directed by Scott Bellis, who knows this work and this festival very well; he has appeared in five productions of Bard’s Sleep since 1990, when he was a founding partner of the company.
And this production delivers on everything we’ve been missing these last two years, with a story that’s both foolish and wise, some excellent performances, lots of laughs and spectacular costumes and sets that take us out of our own dreary world and lead to this enchanted place.
“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” announces the character Hippolyta towards the end of Sleep, after seeing a play within this play. And while there is a lot of nonsense, and something more, in this production, Sleep is a complex work of art that cleverly weaves together three stories with not just silly jokes, but serious themes including the oppression of women.
The story, briefly:
Hermia (Heidi Damayo), a young woman, refuses to marry the young Demetrius (Christopher Allen), who her father has selected for her. The problem? Hermia is in love with someone else, Lysander (a woman in this production, played by Olivia Hutt). Hermia’s father won’t give in, so she and Lysander decide to flee into the woods, after trusting a friend, Helena. Helena (Emily Dallas, who is great) has a crush on Demetrius, so this suits her very well.
The forest they escape to is haunted, ruled by Titania (Kate Besworth) and Oberon (Billy Marchenski), who find themselves in the middle of something of a custody battle over a changeling baby. To distract Titania, Oberon tasks Puck (Sarah Roa), one of his followers from the other world, with casting spells that will make a sleeping person fall in love with the first creature he sees upon waking. The impact will extend far beyond Titania, with love interests now suddenly constantly changing in this world of fairies.
Also in the forest, a group of workers is preparing a play to commemorate the marriage of a high-ranking military officer to Hippolyta, a queen from a distant land. This group includes Bottom, unforgettably played here by Carly Street, who steals scene after scene with her bombastic hilarity, even if, at times, her act seems like too much (I’ve lost count of the number of times she said the word “is okay”. ,” for example). Puck’s antics include Bottom’s transformation into a part donkey, and things get even weirder and more hilarious from there.
The interweaving of these stories unfolds in Amir Ofek’s magnificent setting that beautifully transforms from Athens to a magical forest, complete with a nest of glowing twigs reaching skyward. And Christine Reimer’s costumes are out of this world: from the beautiful gowns and exuberant fairy clothing to a Groot-like Oberon whose transformation from tree fairy to more human supernatural is spectacular.
He also offers some of the best insults in the business: “You minimus, backknot made of grass; Your grain, your acorn. (These sound much more fun and sinister when performed on stage.)
The era in which all this happens is a bit confusing; according to the show, it is set in the 1920s (or 1930s, as the show says elsewhere). But the military uniforms have a definite Nazi-esque feel to them, and there’s a playful Hitler salute gesture at one point. (On the other hand, there’s a bit with a cell phone, so I guess one shouldn’t obsess too much about the accuracy of the time period.)
There are some weak points in this production; the most significant thing is that Damayo did not convince me in this central role.
But after a kind of two-year dream, it felt, yes, magical to be transported into this dream world. Sleep It is a play that is not only about love, but also about interconnectedness: a perfect play to wake up to after all this isolation.
In the interest of consistency across critics’ reviews, The Globe dropped its star rating system for film and theater to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts, and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be highlighted with a Critic’s Choice designation throughout coverage. (TV reviews, usually based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)