BARD ON THE BEACH

A Midsummer Night's Dream

June 15 to September 25

Under the tents in Vanier Park

by Roxanne Davies

Shakespeare is hot. Witness the bard's recent film box office hits with Shakespeare in Love and A Midsummer Night's Dream starring manic comic Kevin Kline and ubiquitous girl-woman Calista Flockhart, otherwise known as Ally McBeal. After seeing this latest offering from B on the B, I am little inclined to sully my theatre experience by seeing the latter.

Bard on the Beach decided to provide a sure winner to celebrate its tenth anniversary and a logical choice it is since this comedy was the first play the company staged way back in 1990. Back then 6,000 theatre lovers saw the show. Today, over 12,000 advance tickets have already been sold and if last year's attendance was any indication, more than 45,000 theatre lovers will see the plays on offer.

It's nice to see culture doing well in Vancouver when everything else seems to be going to hell in a hand basket. The City of Vancouver only provides 1 per cent of the 1.5 million dollar budget required to stage these wonderful plays. Due to terrific marketing, visitors from the US regularly visit Vancouver to see these plays, as was obvious to me when I chatted with my neighbors who came up from Bellingham for opening night.

It was well worth their trip. It was probably the most polished and exuberant opening night performance I have witnessed in a long time. Staging, costumes, music, and the talented cast made it an outstanding event.

The play is a skillful interweaving of four plots involving star-crossed lovers, haughty royalty, fairy dances and buffoonery.  Director Susanne Gillies Smith leads her exuberant cast with an eye to please the eyes and ears. She skillfully presents the conflict and harmony in the play, as the impulsive actions of the lovers collide with the stiff formality of the court.

The play begins with the lovers running away from Theseus' Athenian law, yet at the end are awakened by him from their dream. In between we are treated to a romp through the forest where the power and passion of love can overcome the queen of fairies as readily as it can the lowliest of men.

The talented cast appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves in word and deed. This updated version doesn't strain the brain, yet presents the beauty of Shakespeare's dialogue. The 21 cast members were all superb but I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few special performances. Artistic Director Christopher Gaze may have slimmed down, but he's lost nothing of his thespian talent. He stole the show each time he graced the stage. Playing Bottom the Weaver who is turned into an ass by the naughty spirit, Puck, he had the audience howling with laughter. Stephen Holmes makes his debut with Bard of the Beach as Puck and he was a delight to watch as he cavorted on stage, with great acrobatic skill, as he delivered the humorous lines.

The four lovers are fairly interchangeable, but Sarah May Redmond as the love-struck Helena and her reluctant lover, Demetrius played by David MacKay got the first spontaneous applause of the night, as she comically pleads for his attention.

The actors made full use of the large tent by often entering and exiting from the far ends of the tent, engaging our attention even further, with one of the actors actually flinging himself into the laps of the front row audience.

Playing on the mad cap antics in Shakespeare in Love, this year's Academy Award winner, the five actors in the play within a play, perform with a modern form of comic genius. And yes, there is a dog in their production!

The set design by Pam Johnson was very simple but effective and it never fails to amaze me to see the North Shore Mountains in view through the open backdrop, the evening sky darkening as the play progresses. Resident costume designer Mara Gottler has magic hands as she created some outstanding costumes. The ass head is hilarious and Gaze's voice somehow transmits beautifully through it. I particularly loved the gown of the fairy queen Titania, played with sexual energy by Kirsten Robek.

The evening was over as in a dream ; and I anticipate this year's audiences will love this production as much as I did. O, what fools these mortals be if they don't plan a date with the Bard this summer!