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'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by William Shakespeare DREAM IN HIGH PARK

High Park, Toronto. A Canadian Stage production

High Park, Toronto. A Canadian Stage production

Guest Reviewer Olivia (Eun-Jung) Jon

Dream in High Park celebrates its 40th season amidst the beautiful backdrop nestled in the heart of Bloor West.

It is fitting then it should present the story that inaugurated its stage. Shakespeare’s script is trimmed to 90 minutes and is aimed at being an audience pleaser. Many moments hit the mark from the reaction during this performance, and every inch of the space is used. Director Jamie Robinson is to be commended for the endless activity and artistry that comes alive in the pacing, along with set/costume designer Jackie Chau, and lighting designer, Logan Raju Cracknell. The movement direction by Monica Dottor is also a main strength of this show. The actors flow and move almost limitlessly on the High Park stage.

Depending on who you ask, the story is beloved or reviled. The Fairy Queen and King are at odds. Four lovers run away into the woods, and due to a love potion mistakenly administered by the fairy Puck (sent by the Fairy King), two of the lovers wind up fighting for the wrong or unexpected partner. I don’t believe I give away any spoilers when I say that a set of wandering players enter the forest, and one is transformed and given a donkey’s head. Hilarity ensues.

Evidently, magic is critical to bringing this fairy kingdom to life. There is plenty of that as one is seated in the glorious High Park amphitheatre and evening sets—the talent and prowess of the cast aid this. Robinson has assembled a magnificent, diverse group of actors to play out this comedy. It was breathtaking to see numerous BIPOC performers converging on one stage. Notably, Louisa Zhiu, as Titania/Hippolita, is grounded and imbues her character with charm and lyricism.

This cast is fearlessly active, but at times, the broad activity on stage hindered the clarity of the storytelling. The actors were so focused on projection, movement and playing out to the whole audience that dialogue was occasionally rushed, and nuance was lost. This show shines best when the emotions and the subtleties of the characters lead into the comedy as opposed to playing for humour. This was probably dictated by the need to fill the space and broad comedy, large movements, and read better in an outdoor venue.

That being said, taking time and allowing the words, for example, in Helena’s beginning monologue, to settle with the audience increases appreciation of the text. Shakespeare's words have such vivid texture and colour, and this is one area often overlooked in modern productions. Doing so engages the eyes and ears, but you miss fully engaging the heart.

Still, audiences will undoubtedly be entertained by the cast's pageantry, costumes and exuberance, even if one does not come out more appreciative of Shakespeare.

Now Playing at High Park 1873 Bloor St. West Toronto, ON M6R 2Z3

Running time: 90 minutes.

Runs until September 3, 2023
Director: Jamie Robinson
Stage Manager: Kate Redding

Cast: Shelly Antony, Frank Chung, Steven Hao 郝邦宇, Stuart Hefford, Ryan G. Hinds, Vicent Leblanc-Beaudoin, Megan Legesse, Angel Lo, Jadyn Nasato, Julie Tepperman, Aaron Willis and Louisa Zhu

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