Get thee hence — forthwith! — to Bard on Bower’s delightfully over-the-top presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and you will absolutely laugh yourself silly.
From a chaste kiss that’s delivered squarely on someone’s bottom, to a girl fight and Zen fairies speaking like trippy hippies, this Prime Stock Theatre production that opened on Thursday on the outdoor stage at Red Deer’s Bower Ponds is a must-see for anyone who doubts that a play by William Shakespeare can be side-splittingly funny.
When it comes to humour, nothing has essentially changed in 500 years. The same antics that left an ale-swilling Elizabethan audience rolling in the aisles can still make a modern crowd chortle out loud in this wry, ironic age.
Full marks go to director Thomas Usher and a comically gifted cast for so soundly kicking the ‘stuffy’ out of Shakespeare.
The opening night crowd of about 100 people were treated to a fun and frothy one-and-a-half-hour show that featured scene-setting 1960s Beatles music by local rock group Underside Pattern, and a generous helping of broad humour.
The magic really ignited on Thursday evening with Jennifer Engler’s feisty and phenomenal portrayal of Helena.
The adorably sad-sack character was given a contemporary rendering that’s in keeping with this comedy being re-set in a New York advertising agency in the Mad Men-era.
Helena is openly spurned by Demetrius, the co-worker she loves, but will simply not take his unequivocal ‘No’ for an answer. While Demetrius (JP Lord) claims to love Hermia instead, Engler’s Helena is too desperately pushy to bow out of the battle for his heart.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but the mind,” she astutely observes — before clinging to Demetrius, like a piece of toilet paper on his heel.
Engler’s less-than-graceful Helena sets the tone for the rest of the cast. Her comic timing is impeccable — as is Engler’s ability to tailor Shakespearean speeches to the modern ear. It’s amazing how close some of them sound to an episode of Modern Family, Seinfeld or Friends.
Victoria Wells-Smith also nails the portrayal of Hermia, who’s besotted with Lysander (Isiah Williams). We like her because of her unfiltered enthusiasm. She waves her engagement ring around and shrieks her joy like a Beatles fan in Shea Stadium.
The four young people end up running off to Central Park to more or less dodge disapproving authority figures, and inadvertently cross paths with a band of free-living fairies — I mean hippies.
But all is not peace and love with Titania (Tara Rorke) and Oberon (Andres Moreno), who’ve had a tiff. To get back at his flower-festooned girlfriend, Oberon suggests that his young protégé Puck administer a potion that will make Titania fall in love with the first idiot she sees.
That idiot turns out to be Bottom, who’s memorably played by Sarah Spicer. The blow-hard amateur actor acts as if she’s God’s gift to the theatre in a silly production of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Puck, who’s mischievously depicted by Anna Pinder, thinks Bottom is an ass, so she turns her into one by giving her donkey ears. Unfortunately, Puck also meddles in human affairs and miscalculates, so that the wrong lovers end up falling for each other. Of course, hilarity ensues until it all comes right in the end.
Other noteworthy actors are Albertus Koett (as the authority figure Theseus and a zen hippy), and the rest of the uproarious play-within-a-play cast: Ryan Matilla as Peter Quince, Derek Olinek as Snout, Warren Stevens as Flute, and Sarah Gibson as Robin Starveling.
As with Hamlet, which is running in repertory with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Usher hits the target this season by giving us well-paced productions that are pithy and really move along so audiences can make it out of the park before darkness and/or mosquitoes descend. (It still gets cold, though, so bring jackets and blankets along with your bug spray and lawn chairs.)
Don’t miss A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the belly laughs as well as the nostalgic Beatles music, charmingly performed by Jonah Falk, Corey and Craig Gomez, and Stephen Wheeler of Underside Pattern.
If there’s one play that can help anyone get over finding Shakespeare dense, humourless or intimidating, this one is surely it.
The comedy runs from 7 p.m. on July 26, 30 and Aug. 1 and 2, and at 2 p.m. on July 27 and Aug. 3. Hamlet is on from 7 p.m. on July 27 and 31, and at 2 p.m. on July 26 and Aug. 2.
Admission to both is free, but donations are very welcome.