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by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Vanier Park
June 1-Sept. 24

Dean Paul Gibson’s superb production of Shakespeare’s funniest comedy opens with thunder, lightning and an umbrella ballet.  Nothing could have set the scene better for a Bard on the Beach opening night when torrents of rain beat so loudly on the tent that the soaked actors had to shout to be heard. What troupers, they—and what a show, this.  It’s a dream of a Dream, sure to be the hottest ticket of the summer.

Gibson, now probably the best director in western Canada, outdoes even his last year’s double-barreled Bard hits of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Foregoing the airy-fairy pastoral, faux-Elizabethan tradition, he sets his Dream in some madly eclectic crossover-land where Georgian and Edwardian elegance joins with goofy styles from the 1980s, the post-punk era and Vegas.  Kevin McAllister’s silvery set suggests Noel Coward by way of Ikea. 

Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe’s delicious soundtrack runs from classical and country to doo wop and pop, from ridiculous kitsch to the sublime. There’s a perfect moment when besotted Titania (the magnificent Colleen Wheeler), hypnotized by love-juice, moves in slo-mo towards foolish Bottom (Scott Bellis), who has literally been turned into an ass, accompanied by the lush strings and bluesy crooning of Etta James’ “At Last.”

Mara Gottler’s costumes are even more spectacular than usual: luscious, sumptuous and funky all at once. Androgynous Puck (a glorious Kyle Rideout), with bleached hair and goatee, is resplendent in black sleeveless leather vest, tutu, striped tights and high-topped red sneakers. Hippolyta’s white bell-hooped wedding dress is to die for.

The acting is terrific from top to bottom.  Every scene provides a star-turn. And unlike many Shakespearean directors, Gibson never forgets the comedy in “romantic comedy,” even if some of his shtick is over the top. 

Tara Jean Wilkin and Parnelli Parnes’ young lovers Hermia and Lysander are giddy kids literally vibrating with excitement, and Melissa Poll’s leggy Helena slips adeptly from outraged love-warrior to lovesick girly-girl. As fairy-king Oberon, Ian Butcher maintains his strong dignity even when servant Puck kisses him long and hard on the mouth.

The “rude mechanicals,” who rehearse and perform the ludicrous play of Pyramus and Thisbe for the Duke’s wedding, are hysterically funny, led by Russell Roberts, who plays Snout the tinker as a ferocious Scot, Paul Moniz de Sá, a large man with a white cat and waxed moustache whose Starveling is anything but, and Scott Bellis’ amazing Bottom.       

In mismatched plaids with side-whiskers and buck teeth, Bellis delivers the most hilarious performance of the year.  His Bottom’s blithely conceited ham acting is beautifully detailed, crammed with rich comic moments, building to a crescendo that had me screaming with laughter.

This Dream is a scream.  Don’t miss it.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:31 PM
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