Spirits of another sort...

Another summer, another Bard on the Beach in Vancouver. The 25th! In 1990, A Midsummer Night's Dream opened the first Shakespeare festival in this dream of a city, when it is at its summer best, so Dream was an appropriate choice for the silver anniversary season, and in what I think may be a bow to the audiences of Shakespeare's time, a real crowd pleaser in the most burlesque way.

Not only in Dream, but in other Shakespeare plays - comedies and bits of comic relief in the tragedies - certain scenes go on so long it seems that Will wanted to give actors the opportunity to milk them for all they're worth. Why not? The audience paid to be entertained; there wasn't much else, not like today when you can whip out your Ipad and watch a movie at the beach while you're waiting for the fireworks to begin. Nevertheless, with all the other choices, Bard sells out practically every performance during its annual summer run, and Dream is still one of the most popular of the four shows offered.

This year, director Dean Paul Gibson remounted a production of Dream that he first conceived in 2006. According to his show notes, the idea was to wrap this "fusion of fantasy in a collision of style and humour, augmented with desire and the need for harmony." The collision of style came through the music and dance for the most part. Etta James' great rendition of "At Last" when Titania awakes and, under the spell that the Fairy King, Oberon, has ordered cast, she falls in love with Bottom, as a donkey. Of course "Why do fools fall in love?"  ends that scene, and there are other musical jokes, such as Lawrence Welk's old  "bubble music" theme song, when the beautifully garbed true couples, all brought back to their senses by another spell, approach the stage to sit through a seemingly endless performance by the workmen, including Bottom, who put on the play within the play. Credit for the clever music choices goes to sound designers Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe.

Fabulous hair styles and imaginative costumes, and Puck, played by Kyle Rideout, in a platinum Mohawk, white tights, silver high-tops, and a multicoloured tu-tu he uses to accent his bawdy, athletic, bi-sexual wringing of every possible bit of humour out of his many scenes. He's a fairy, yes, and a genuine spirit of another sort as he struts, leaps, twerks, grinds, wiggles. The audience found him hilarious and of course he got the loudest cheers, what would have been Bravos in Europe, at the end.

Were the actors exaggerating the humour to please the audience at the expense of the Bard's meter and brilliant lines, asked a young friend, a student of theatre? For some of us, yes. I ended up liking Ian Butcher as Oberon because he managed to retain a certain dignity while creating the spells that worked such theatrical chaos: "I with the morning's love have oft made sport...even til the eastern gate, all fiery red opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams, turns into yellow gold his salt green streams...". And admiring Claire Hesselgrave as Helena, for the credibility of the lines she spoke in despair, outrage and love. Despite her wild hair and sexy costume, she  maintained the sort of clarity necessary to convey words and phrases that have become part of of our common vocabulary.

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind."

A Gatsby-esque Twelfth Night

Imagine a meeting between F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Shakespeare. Hey, I've got an idea, says Will. Let's transport my popular English comedy Twelfth Night to the site of your American tragedy. The decadence of  West Egg ( Long Island) and the class consciousness of its residents are perfect for my characters, who are, most of them, titled, and not above the kind of cruelty latent in Tom Buchanan. And it's all about mistaken identity, too, or at least people pretending to be someone they are not.

In this summer of The Great Gatsby, I found it odd that the director of Bard on the Beach's Twelfth Night, Dennis Garnhum, apparently should ignore the popularity of the movie and the revival of Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, and instead invite the audience to imagine that it was 1913 and Viola had been shipwrecked at a European Spa, called Illyria. All those men in light coloured suits, the drinking, carousing. Are they trying to say something about Gatsby I wondered, shortly into Act 1. Is Feste the Nick Carraway-type character? But wait, weren't the women's dresses wrong for the jazz age, and, and...

I know that theatre folk are always looking for new ways of presenting Shakespeare, but here the choice seemed less than well thought out. With setting and costumes so obviously referential, the production would have been served by making better plot or thematic use of the implications. It might be done without altering the script. On the other hand, why not a different setting altogether? Still, it was a very enjoyable production with a wonderful performance, as usual, by the multi-talented Jonathan Young as Feste, the wise fool, and also by the newcomer Rachel Cairns, who played a convincing Viola. I loved the scene just before intermission, when each principal character crosses the stage by him or herself, pausing for barely a beat, before striding down one of the tunnels to offstage. We knew what each was thinking, though no one said a word. Of course on the main stage, the backdrop open to a sea/mountain view of Vancouver is always the star of the show.