The Chekhov Collective brings a new twist to the Bard’s classic comedy to Toronto audiences
I have seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream only once before years back and that production featured a large cast, an elaborate set, and costumes which is why I was looking forward to seeing this version by The Chekhov Collective at as intimate a space as The Citadel.
In the words of the director, Richard Sheridan Willis, this production endeavors to “bring the play into an intimate indoor space in order to foreground the musicality of Shakespeare’s language and the delightful complications of the play’s relationships.”
One way the ensemble does this is by focusing on the physicality of the characters. This approach stems from the work of Michael Chekhov whose ideas The Chekhov Collective use as a foundation for their production. Chekhov argues that an actor should use their imagination when trying to engage with the character and one way to do that is to “think with their body.”
I absolutely relished the movement of the characters. Melinda Little, the movement choreographer made the star-crossed lovers Demetrius (Michael Man) and Lysander (Jesse Nerenberg) and the Fairy Queen Titania (Rena Polley) seem to be languidly floating through water as they were being bewitched by Puck (Elizabeth Saunders), and Oberon (Paul Amos). Later in the second act, you can almost see Puck’s intense exertion, as he tries to draw the four young lovers to the same patch of forest, as though he were physically dragging them there.
While using Chekhov’s framework worked in regard to creating the hypnotic movement I don’t feel it served the play overall. For example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy, yet Amos, played his part as Oberon with such sinister intensity that did not sit well with the genre or the tone of the play. It has to be said that Amos, who has a history of appearing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has great technique and skill as an actor.
Unlike the first act, though, the second act is side splittingly, double up in your chair laughing funny. My date for the evening, Ylan, loved the secondary story line of the group of laborers, self-styled The Mechanicals, who rehearse and perform the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in honor of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, also played by Paul Amos and Rena Polley. This play within a play is quite farcical and the cast take full advantage of that and really let it rip to wonderful effect.
At this point I would like to take a moment to talk about how Zach Counsil also who plays Bottom and Pyramus is really James Corden. Apart from being a dead ringer for Corden he has an unbeatable vivacious energy.
Ylan also loved Michael Man, who also plays the simpering and star-struck Quince. He somehow manages to be funny while looking serious and with very little dialogue. We both wished we had seen more of him. My personal favourite though was Elizabeth Saunders who plays Puck with such enthusiastic and gleeful naughtiness that you have no trouble believing that she really is a mischievous sprite.
One thing that did not, in my opinion, contribute to the tone of the play was the set comprising of white flooring and curtains. To my eyes it looked very clinical and seemed the furthest thing from a forest alive with the possibility of magic.
Cyan-toned lighting was used on occasion to indicate a forest setting, and warm spotlights on the wall were, I believe, used to symbolize fairies. Even so, the white sparse set continued to be too harsh.
A large piece of patchwork fabric was used to represent foliage and to help conceal the entrances and exits of characters, this helped ground the location a bit more. I didn’t understand the significance of the well carved wooden chair suspended over the stage for a large portion of the show (were the characters supposed to be underground?)
While there were aspects and performances in this production which I absolutely enjoyed I feel that not all the elements came together very well. Yet, it has to be said that this production digs deeper and forces you to think more about the play rather than accept it at face-value as just lighthearted comedy.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on until March 11, 2018 at The Citadel (304 Parliament St.)
- Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 8 pm with added matinees at 2 pm on weekends.
- Tickets are $40 for general admission and $25 for students & arts workers.
- Tickets are available online.
Photo of Michael Man, Zach Counsil (Standing), Christina Fox, Jesse Nerenberg, and Natasha Greenblatt (Floor) by Racheal McCaig.