A Midsummer Night's Dream: Presented by the Stratford Festival of Canada at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

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A Midsummer Night's Dream Presented by the Stratford Festival of Canada at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. May 4-October 31, 2004. Directed by Leon Rubin. Choreography by Donna Feore. Designed by John Pennoyer. Lighting by Michael J. Whitfield. Music composed by Bruce Gaston. Circus instruction by Anais Guimond. Sound by Jim Neil. With Jonathan Goad (Theseus, Oberon), Dana Green (Hippolyta, Titania), Michelle Giroux (Helena), Nazneen Contractor (Hermia), Jeffrey Wetsch (Lysander), Haysam Kadri (Demetrius), Nicholas Van Burek (Puck), Thorn Marriott (Bottom), Donald Carrier (Quince), Brendan Averett (Flute), Robert King (Snug), Shane Carry (Starveling), Anthony Malarky (Snout), Adrienne Gould (First Fairy), Brad Rudy (Egeus), and others.

The perennial challenge of A Midsummer Night's Dream is to create a world in which the four plot strands make sense. After their brilliant solution to the much more challenging Pericles in 2003, director Leon Rubin and designer John Pennoyer should have had no difficulty finding a concept to house courtiers, fairies, lovers, and artisans; but the lovers and artisans seemed initially to belong to a different concept. Warm light and armed guards in berets identified the opening location as a capital city in a Latin American paramilitary regime. A kaleidoscope of colored lights suggesting sunlight filtered through dense foliage, along with a rich soundscape of pipe music and bird calls, relocated the wood to an Amazonian rainforest populated by paint-daubed "native creatures" (Pennoyer, program notes). With Quince-like literalism, Rubin changed "Athens" to "the city," and "Athenian" to "civilian" or "human," with unhappy metrical consequences. Yet Rubin also tested the imagination by asking one to fit the lovers and the rude mechanicals into this world.

An opening tango established sexual tension and mutual attraction between Theseus and Hippolyta. As is now conventional, Hippolyta, silently taking Hermia's part, walked out in a huff when Theseus commanded her to "Come, my Hippolyta." She was still annoyed with Theseus in 4.1, delivering the "hounds of Sparta" passage as a rebuke. With Jonathan Goad and Dana Green doubling the lead roles in the Athenian and fairy courts, Titania and Oberon picked up the fight that Theseus and Hippolyta had begun. The static blocking of 2.1 emphasized the emotional distance between Fairy King and Queen: while Titania took the moral high ground on the jungle platform, Oberon balanced precariously on the handrail of the stage-left vomitorium.

Athleticism was the hallmark of the fairy world. Puck spent much of his stage time hanging from or climbing up and down the stylized iron vines on a three-level jungle platform, with the effect that his role was relegated to the background. To cover the awkward transition in 4.1 when Goad and Green had to make a quick change into hunting garb, the fairies celebrated the reconciliation of Oberon and Titania with a dance using trapezes and bungees suspended from the crown of the Festival Theatre's ceiling to exploit the full height of the stage space. The dance was spectacular rather than thematic, paying homage not to Peter Brook but to the Cirque du Soleil, where the productions circus instructor Anais Guimond was trained. …