Really, what more could you want on a splendid July evening than an outdoor performance (beneath a couple of towering trees, no less) of Shakespeare’s hopeful, fantastical, forest-themed A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Make it one of the best shows yet by a Company of Fools, and summertime life is about as good as it gets.
Opening beneath those tall trees in Strathcona Park and moving around the city for the next six-plus weeks, the production features a blend of new and familiar faces, each playing multiple roles in this story of love, rebellion and fairies.
Catriona Leger – a well-known member of the Fools — is a jaded, eye-rolling Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, as well as playing the fairy queen Titania and the disastrously inept playwright Peter Quince. Sarah Finn makes her overdue debut with the company as, among other characters, an excitable Helena, avidly pursued by the earnest Lysander (Andrew Moore, also making his debut with the Fools) and the self-regarding Demetrius (Mitchel Rose). Company veteran Geoff McBride is back as Bottom and as a hilariously scene-chewing Pyramus in the play-within-a-play that’s one of the many bits of comic delight in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Also on board: Leslie Cserepy as those twin kings of human and fairyland, Theseus and Oberon; Tamara Freeman as Hermia; and Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha as a singularly beguiling Puck and the show’s brief but memorable violinist.
As you doubtless remember, the storyline of A Midsummer Night’s Dream resists any attempt at easy summary. Suffice to say that the worlds of humans and fairies intersect, love is seen to be both joyful and dark, and that, in keeping with the best comedic tradition, chaos threatens to engulf the world of the play but eventually yields to order.
Under director Mary Ellis, we get strong women – appropriate, considering that the action of the play is instigated by Hermia’s refusal to follow her father’s order to marry Demetrius because she’s in love with Lysander. Even the discomfiting spectacle of Helena at one point humiliating herself in a desperate attempt to prove how much she loves Demetrius does nothing to weaken the vision of strong womanhood.
In keeping with Fools tradition, Ellis also injects the show with vigorous physicality, spoofs and a pleasing attention to both the serious and silly, the sublime and the profane.
Vanessa Imeson, who’s carved out a name for herself in the Ottawa theatre scene over the past few years, created the costumes. They’re an entertaining mix of Victorian and modern, a clever nod to the theme of repression and rebellion – female and otherwise – that distinguished the 1800s, lives on today and is likely just part of the human condition. The fashion fluidity also speaks to the commerce between fairy and human that is at the heart of the play’s action.
Fleet and smart, A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes a fine capper to an Ottawa summer’s day.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Company of Fools production. It was reviewed Monday. In locations around Ottawa until Aug. 19. Information: fools.ca.