The spirit of mirth, brought to you live: Lodestar Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Jackson Card and friend, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“I have had a most rare vision,” says Bottom, a stage-struck weaver with boundless enthusiasm for theatrical pursuits, late in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I had one of those, too. Friday night I dreamed I found myself, masked, ensconced on a folding chair, swatting a mozzie or two, in someone’s front yard. Other people were there, too, at a distance, on blankets or lawn chairs. A contagion had driven us all outdoors; we could see houses, close at hand but unapproachable, from which the characters might possibly have been expelled. And we were watching an exuberant 75-minute production of Shakespeare’s great romantic fantasy (and most produced play).

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Directed by Max Rubin, the show is the first item on Lodestar Theatre’s summer “garden theatre season” menu. And its delivery is Skip The Tickets for pandemical times. The company of travelling players will undertake to bring Dream to you. At your place, front- or backyard, they’ll do a performance for you and as many of your theatre-starved guests as can populate your outdoor “theatre” at a safe distance.    

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

Rubin’s production, an amusingly ingenious adaptation for six extremely busy human actors (and two impressively selfless puppets) launches a seasonal menu that will include two double-bills in the next couple of weeks, with more plays to follow. Lodestar is a company, transplanted from the U.K., with an archive that goes back a decade and a half and includes a Shakespeare festival in Liverpool.

Ah, summer Shakespeare: planes, cars, kids, the odd dog buying in to the casual vibe of the occasion. What we get to see courtesy of Lodestar is a raucous, high-energy high-speed scramble into the outdoors — and characters buffeted by the permutations and reversals of love.

OK, this isn’t one of those Dreams of the existential reverie persuasion. Or some Freudian excursion into the unconscious. Or a political exploration of exile or an exploration of sexual ambivalence. Nope. This is comical cavort, at farcical speed, full of pratfalls, in which the quartet of questing young lovers  are nearly as funny as the hilariously earnest rustic artisans, scene-stealers for the last 400-plus years, who decide to put on a play about thwarted love.

It is a measure of the giddy sense of humour of Rubin’s production that Hermia, the object in the text of many jokey references to her petite stature, is played by a puppet, with scarlet lips and a striking blonde Rapunzel braid. Jackson Card plays both Lysander and Demetrius, with the former sometimes played by a puppet with an inexplicable Joisey accent. “Hoymia, follow me no moah!” Why? Hard to say, really, but then “the spirit of mirth” is according to Dream “both pert and nimble.” And this is a production that scores big on both. 

Garden rehearsal for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lodestar Theatre. Photo supplied.

The props are simple enough to be fun. Fairies get pointy ears. Emily Anne Corcoran dons spectacles to play Helena, who goes from being the girl who doesn’t get the guy to being the girl who gets two, and despises them both for mocking her. The four-way brawl for two actors that is the climactic outcome of a crescendo of frustration and bafflement — “quick bright things come to confusion” — is a tangible demo of how bravely puppets enter the fray. They really fling themselves into their work. 

The troupe of eager rustic thesps preparing a production of Pyramus and Thisbe, a tale of “tragical mirth,” do have a director, Peter Quince (Caitlin Kelly) the carpenter. But try as he might to exert his authority, he’s no match for his take-charge sublimely over-confident star Bottom, the bossy weaver who magnanimously offers to take on all the parts. Bottom is played, with a certain unsquelchable swagger and  histrionic zeal, by Hayley Moorhouse, like her cast-mates a recent acting grad from the U of A. And she is very funny. 

Braden Butler’s Flute, the shy bellows-mender, rises reluctantly to the demands of his role as Thisbe — and then gets bitten by the theatre bug as we watch. The death scene is, well, operatic.

The fairies aren’t the quixotic sprites of many a Dream. Amusingly they’re earthbound and phlegmatic. Hanging out with mortals has made them sullen. Far from being a “merry wanderer of the night,” as self-billed, Puck the fairy king’s personal employee, has in Sheldon Stockdale’s performance the general demeanour of a server in a dive where (as long experience has taught him) tipping is minimal.

The sound effects and music are live, and created by the cast during the fleeting moments the actors dart behind a free-standing red curtain. There’s an improvised craziness to the whole enterprise that doesn’t go amiss in a comedy-within-a-comedy. The characters  are never quite sure whether they’re awake or dreaming. The likeable cast never stops moving, and they remind you, if it ever slipped your mind, that live theatre has its own kinetic energy. After all, as the Duke says, casting about for a suitable live entertainment for his own back yard, “how shall we beguile the lazy time, if not with some delight? Good point, Duke. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now available, with more productions to come in Lodestar Theatre’s garden theatre season. Production details, and price list ($250 to $450 depending on cast size), are at lodestartheatre.org.

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