By Trent Scherer
Never afraid to take a different look at Shakespeare, Hart House Theatre attacks A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Jeremy Hutton once again directing Shakespeare.
If you have never been to Hart House Theatre then I would suggest you go sometime soon. It’s an amazing theatre that dates back to 1919. The hallways display sketches and posters from the 1940s for the Theatre Museum (which is in search of a permanent home).
I would like to say that Dream fit Hart House like a glove, but that would not be truthful. This play did not work for me but may work for many others. I see Shakespearean comedies as a mix of wit and bawdy humor. The revelers of Bottom and his fellow blue-collar boys present the bawdy physical humor that the standees at the old Globe love, while giving the wit and rhythm to intellectuals up in the seats. It is a good and necessary contrast.
Hutton’s vision of this play changes Athens into late-19th century London, though we only see it in the costuming since there is no set save for the gypsies. Yes, I said gypsies. Rather than fairies of the forest, Hutton changed them into Bohemian gypsies in England.
There is a list I could give as to why this play did not work for me or for my friend Hugh. I will not list everything but I will give a couple of examples so you know what I’m like. This play is a love story with a subplot about actors who put on a play about love with disastrous results: that is where the humor and the contrast lies. In this production, that contrast is lost.
There is no real love felt between any of these people. The action and actors start at such a high level that the only place to go is up, and when they do, it borders on melodrama. Perhaps that was Hutton’s intention since Melodramas were what acting was in the 1800s. Either way, the authentic love that becomes confused by Puck’s tinkerings is lost, and thus when it is flummoxed by Puck, I just did not truly care.
Did I mention this is a musical, because it is. There are dance numbers that are very well executed. This production is an extremely physical show from start to end, and for that I commend them. However, you can see that more time was spent on the physicality of the production, than on the words.
Shakespeare is about punctuation and breathing. When most companies contemporise Shakespeare, they still remember that it’s about the words. This production seems to have been more interested in the bawdy and the physical, so that what everyone is saying is lost.
There is a contradiction between what Victorian prudishness would allow, and the raunchiness of this play. Seeing that the four lovers end up in their 19th century underwear and a lot of touching is involved, it was a very different interpretation of the original text.
Two great points for both Hugh and I were Carly Chamberlain as Helena and William Jennings as Thisbe. Though her lamentation near the start was extreme, Chamberlain has a great grasp on her words and her character and it was a pleasure to see her on stage. Jennings was muted as Flute, but as Thisbe in the play-within-a-play he was honestly hilarious. Just the looks he gave were perfect. He played her at the level where most of the actors were at the start of the show.
Please keep in mind, that this is my opinion. A large number of audience members were laughing so hard at the end when Bottom and Flute were kissing Snout’s crotch that obviously people did enjoy the production. If you like physical humor, you may very well love this production.
–A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until December 5th at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle).
-Performances run Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm with Saturday matinees at 2pm.
-Adult tickets are $25; Students and Seniors $15; Student tickets at $10 Wednesday night.
– Tickets are available at Hart House Theatre by calling 416.978.8849
Photo of Adrianna Prosser as Hermia and Carly Chamberlain as Helena courtesy of Hart House Theatre.