Review: Natural effects light up Midsummer Night's Dream by the sea

The Bard was alive and magic was afoot at Clover Point Park on Tuesday night — not just onstage in Shakespeare by the Sea’s big white tent, but all around it under a blue moon that appeared as if on cue during A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Lighting design by God enhancing a stunning open-air backdrop — Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains, magically morphing from brilliantly sunlit to salmon-coloured as dusk approached — made for a dreamy experience, indeed.

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Equally bright and breezy was director Robert Light’s production of Shakespeare’s playful fantasy, featuring Puck, the mischievous court jester; four young Athenian lovers; a troupe of inept amateur actors staging a play; Oberon and Titania, king and queen of frolicking fairies, who amusingly manipulate the mortals; and other familiar characters.

This Dream is a mirthful, fast-and-furious take modernized with flair and innovation, although it can be cringe-inducing at times. Puck, for instance, personified with comic gusto by Jared Lea, becomes a hockey player, with orange pucks (get it?) on his helmet. Emma Hughes, striking as Amazon queen Hippolyta, shows up as a baseball player, glove in hand, at one point.

Light’s inventive universe includes fairies who wear glitter masks and chant, military style, while wielding red-striped canes, golf clubs crossed like swords, a honking bicycle, digital camera, laptop and the cheeky suggestion that a “magic herb” is weed.

The play, presented in conjunction with Discovery Dance, also boasts a Cirque du Soleil touch, with aerial choreographer Sven Johansson masterfully employing an “E.S. Dance” device, making it seem that characters including Oberon and Titania are floating mid-air.

Highlights include Titania’s heart-stopping spin and Puck, sporting a cape, flying off like a superhero.

While the action and Elizabethan dialogue can get a little too frenetic, the stalwart cast rises to the challenge. Light’s stagecraft is such that they begin to appear like figures in a Whac-a-Mole game — popping up here, there and everywhere — including in the audience. (If you’re not into interactive theatre, avoid the front-row and aisle seats.)

Standouts include Matt Mathiason, commanding from the get-go as Theseus and later Oberon, and Fran Patterson as Titania, especially when her spellbound character inexplicably professes her affection for an ass. That would be Bottom, the vainglorious actor, portrayed with comic vigour by James Johnson, whom Oberon turns into a donkey.

Also noteworthy are Ellen Law, beguiling as Hermia, Jack Hayes as her beloved Lysander and Vanessa Bloomfield, amusingly feisty as lovelorn Helena, whose romantic exasperation reaches a fever pitch. Tristan Bacon is also effectively flighty as conflicted Demetrius. He and Hayes are amusing as they slap each other during their romantic rivalry.

Julie Grey, who doubles as Egea, also deserves special mention for her hilarious incarnation as The Wall in the play within.

It’s a quibble, perhaps, but worth noting that it’s only during this protracted home stretch when “the mechanicals” present their tale of Pyramus and Thisby that the comic hijinks wear out their welcome.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is presented in repertory with Romeo & Juliet. For schedules, go to vicshakesea.ca.

mreid@timescolonist.com

What: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When: Aug. 22, 24, 27, 29, 31, 7 p.m. (2 p.m. weekend matinées); in repertory with Romeo & Juliet

Where: Clover Point Park

Tickets: $25/$20 (cash only)

Info: 250-213-8088, vicshakesea.ca

Rating: 3 1/2 stars (out of five)

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