Theatre review: Fairy-fuelled Dream is truly dreamy

Rideout, Bellis bookend effervescent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

At Bard on the Beach until Sept. 21

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What a dream of a Dream! Take your teenagers. Take your out-of-town guests. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson, it’s a summertime frolic in a land of fairies. And it’s beautiful.

Kevin McAllister’s arching, concentric half-circles frame the rear opening of the tent; with the addition of a few long-poled white umbrellas, McAllister takes us into a magical forest outside Athens where fairies dwell, where lovers meet and are set upon by the mischievous Puck, servant to Oberon, King of the Fairies.

Gibson directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 2006 and it was a huge hit. I couldn’t imagine how he would take the earlier production and make it even bigger and better. He called it back then “a fusion of fantasy, wrapped in a collision of style and humour.” Collision now meets explosion of style and humour in this 2014 production.

Costume designer Mara Gottler fuses past and present in her outrageous costumes. In many of them, the top half is “period” — leg o’ mutton sleeves, silk and brocade bodices — while the bottom is “contemporary” — tights and stiletto heels. Puck, for example, appears in a black leather, sleeveless waistcoat on top, frothy, multi-coloured tutu in the middle and striped socks and silver high top runners on the feet. Gottler goes for — and gets it — all.

Adding to the collision of style is the sound design by Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe. From “I Put A Spell On You” to “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and “La Vie En Rose” it’s a mixed musical bag. But when Titania awakens, sets eyes upon the ass and immediately falls in love, the musical cue is hilarious: “At Last My Love Has Come Along.”

The story involves pairs of lovers: Theseus, Duke of Athens (John Voth), and Hippolyta (Adele Noronha); Oberon (Ian Butcher) and Titania (Naomi Wright); Hermia (Claire Hesselgrave) and Lysander (Chirag Naik); Helena (Sereana Malani) and Demetrius (Daniel Doheny). And, in the play-within-the-play, there’s Pyramus (Scott Bellis) and Thisby (Haig Sutherland).

But this effervescent confection is really bookended by Puck (Kyle Rideout) and Bottom (Scott Bellis). Rideout and Bellis take this show to the moon. When Rideout shimmies his tutu-ed butt at the audience, there are howls of laughter. His performance is athletic, full of attitude, cheeky and, in an androgynous sort of way, sexy. We can only hope that his huge talent as a filmmaker doesn’t keep him from performing.(He’s currently working on an exciting feature-length film based on the Electric Company Theatre’s Studies in Motion.)  Rideout is a huge emerging talent.

Scott Bellis, on the other hand, has “emerged.” A founding member of Bard on the Beach, Bellis has been around for a while but everything he touches turns to gold and his range is huge.

Who will ever forget his decade-ago performance in Thom Pain where he was “brave to the point of self-annihilation”? Or his Feste in Bard’s Twelfth Night some years ago when he revealed the darkness of the play with a fantastically nuanced performance.

And here he is, a buck-toothed character who has the audience in fits of laughter when he awakens to find himself transformed into an ass.

My daughter, who lives and teaches in Whistler, brought her Grade 7 class down for a preview performance. The students were well-prepared: they had turned their classroom into a magical forest, taken turns reading parts, discussed famous love stories, talked about arranged marriages and much more. By the time they arrived at Bard, they were psyched. And they loved it. They talked about it all the way home late that night. As one of the surprised and delighted parents said, “My kid is hooked on Shakespeare.” Fantastic!

Dreamiest Dream ever.

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