Review: Midsummer (A Play with Songs) (Tarragon Theatre)

A wild night of questionable decisions fuels Midsummer, at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto

Just like Shakespeare’s tale of fairies run amok on the shortest night of the year, Midsummer (A Play with Songs), on stage at the Tarragon Theatre, is a story of two lost and unlikely souls finding each other and allowing whimsy, chaos, and chance propel them through one helluva night.

This ramshackle blur of events is punctuated with song, sprinkled with creatively situated audience participation, and fueled by liquid encouragement. Being in the audience feels like you’re following that one friend around on a wild bender — you’re not quite sure where he’s going to end up but it’s bound to be a chaotic ride.

Midsummer begins before it’s even supposed to begin. As the audience filled their seats and Natasha Parsons, Tarragon Theatre’s Director of Patron Services, takes the stage to address them — thanking them for their attendance and asking them to please kindly turn off their cell phones — two people stumble through the stage’s side door dragging along four suitcases and two guitars. Looking at the already gathered audience, they quickly set up.

The staging for the performance is a reflection of the show itself. The stage begins bare save for these suitcases and the guitars. The suitcases get rolled around, pushed and moved to become everything from seats at a bar, a bed for two, and the front steps of a church. Out of the suitcases come a number of random props and costume pieces, first tossed to the side quickly filling the stage but then becoming vital at various points through the narrative.

Brandon McGibbon and Carly Street play the oddly paired dynamic duo at the heart of the story. McGibbon plays Bob, a dried up used car salesman who runs deals with folks who operate on the other side of the law. Street plays Helena, a divorce lawyer who has a habit for the drink and for making poor choices with married men. Bob and Helena have nothing in common and both exist in entirely different circles. So, of course, they sleep together. The following day, after a car deal gone awry and a botched wedding ceremony, the two reunite with a bag full of cash and the overwhelming desire to not look back.

The performance itself is very fast paced and often times tumultuous. The tale is far from being linear storytelling. Events happen as described by Helena and Bob, and then the narrative sidetracks and derails to different points, the two offer their own two cents whenever they can and it feels very much like watching Arrested Development. Often I found myself asking ‘so where is this going?’ and though the answer to that was never clear, eventually the story got there.

Opening night for any show is always a nerve-filled night where anything could happen and I felt that way when it came to McGibbon and Street. It took some time at the beginning of the show before the pair were able to find their footing and ease into their comfort levels with each other. Street, in particular, came off as rather stiff and uncertain at first before she relaxed into her character. Bob and Helena are from Edinburgh, Scotland and, of course, with that comes an accent. I found that, with this show being heavily dialogue driven, that at times both fell in and out of the accent. Much of this can be chalked up to opening night nerves and I’m sure the pair will have it all ironed out throughout the run.

Midsummer is a fun and riotous bit of storytelling that is easy to laugh at and get caught up in. The music that punctuates the tale is catchy and amusing — no runaway hits and not something that the performance exactly needed, but an enjoyable addition nonetheless. The performance is entertaining, lighthearted, and worth seeing.

Details

  • Midsummer (A Play with Songs) is playing at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until May 28, 2017.
  • Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm with Saturday/Sunday weekend matinees at 2:30 pm.
  • Tickets are $55, $45 for seniors 65+, and $29 for students.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone by calling (416) 531 1827, or in person at the box office.
  • Performance runs 1 h 35 min with no intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: This performance contains mature subject matter, coarse language, and audience participation.

Photo of Brandon McGibbon and Carly Street by Cylla von Tiedemann