Dream in High Park Stage
by Patrick B
This summer, Shakespeare lovers have their pick of plays to see. Whether you want to take the drive to Stratford or the subway to High Park, there’s a handful of productions for the Bard Lover in all of us to enjoy.
Over the past week, I enjoyed two such plays: Driftwood Theatre Troupe’s ‘Macbeth’ and Dream in High Park’s ‘The Winter’s Tale.’
Macbeth, the shortest, bloodiest, and most Scottish of Shakespeare’s plays, centres around a parable on the dangers of greed. Macbeth hears from three witches that he is to become king, lets the power go to his head, and proceeds to kill everyone who might stop him. It’s a violent, gory, powerful little play — and one of my personal favourites.
Driftwood set Macbeth in a barren, post-apocalyptic world. Players were well dressed by costume designer Michelle Bailey in authentic-looking, rag-tag military garb, gas masks, and distressed combat boots to match the sole set piece: a rotating crumbling wall of rock. As the play was outside and the troupe travels around the GTA performing, the set was admittedly quite barren, but the natural scenery of Todmorden Mills that surrounded the players really made the atmosphere. As the play went on, getting progressively darker, so did the night sky, making for a genuinely creepy Act Five.
Janick Hebert did an excellent job as Lady Macbeth, pulling off both the character’s confident, controlling beginning and her lengthy insane Act Four monologue with aplomb. If only her stage husband, Peter Van Gestel, could have matched her talent. He was a fine Macbeth, but not nearly as memorable. The supporting actors all did excellent jobs switching between several roles each and carrying them all off — in particular Madeleine Donahue as Banquo, and especially for her spine-tingling portrayal of his ghost.
I found the production to be a great rendition of the Scottish play. Creepy, atmospheric music was played at intervals, the horrific aspects of the work were realized (which is often difficult to do in live theater), and the actors were largely great. Driftwood is touring all over the GTA this summer, so if you’re interested in seeing a solid production, just check out Driftwood’s website for more information.
The Winter’s Tale
A week later, I headed out to see a play which I had never read and which is quite rarely performed: ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ The reason this play isn’t attended as often as such classics as ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is because of its difficult-to-define nature. The first three acts are tragedy, the last two comedy, and the setting fantastical. It’s usually lumped in with ‘Romances’ — otherwise known as the category scholars use when they don’t know quite where to put a play. ‘The Tempest’ is also a ‘romance’ because of similar issues.
‘The Winter’s Tale’ tells the story of a meeting gone sour. Two kings, Leontes and Polixenes, meet in good spirits, but by the end of the evening, the jealous Leontes is certain his very pregnant wife Hermione is having an affair with Polixenes. Complications ensue, and in the end, Polixenes cuts ties with Leontes and Hermione dies of grief after birthing a daughter, Perdita. Leontes is certain Perdita is not his and sends her to die in the woods. The oracle proclaims Hermione was true all along, and Leontes falls into a deep depression. Meanwhile, a shepherd finds the baby girl and raises her as his own. Sixteen years later, she is a beautiful young woman who has caught the eye of Polixenes’ son, Florizel, who wants to marry her. More complications ensue, but in the end, all is well, with the young lovers together, and a surprise return of a character once thought lost forever.
I thought Dream’s production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ was just sublime. Although I had only read a synopsis of the play online, I understood what was going on and thoroughly enjoyed it. Director Estelle Shook did an amazing job with her production, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The set, a multi-level, wooden structure right in the heart of the beautiful High Park, was perfect: easily transitioning from the tense court to the easy-going country side with the help of a few garlands and a merry band of actors. David Jansen as the jealous Leontes was almost too convincing as the paranoid king, but this conviction also made the king’s sincere sadness and redemption at the close of the play feel legitimate and earned. Nicole Robert as Hermione’s right-hand woman, the feisty Paulina, was hilarious and spoke what was on the audience’s mind. But in particular, John Blackwood has to be praised. His portrayal of Autolycus, the mischievous, wise-cracking musician, was hysterical and wickedly enjoyable to watch.
The supporting actors were also strong, especially Charlotte Gowdy and Meilie Ng, who switched between several roles over the course of the night, although they were best as the bawdy women of the countryside. With this female talent in minor roles, I wonder what persuaded the casting director to choose Jasmine Chen to play Perdita. Her portrayal was unconvincing, and every line was delivered with almost identical intonation. Perdita’s love, Florizel, played by Thomas Olajide, was a little more intriguingly played — but not by much. In the end, I suppose they made a good, bland match.
The play also made good use of music. Several actors sang, played musical instruments, or beat drums to add atmosphere to the play with great success. Although the songs don’t add much substance to the work, they were great fun to watch — just like the rest of the play.
‘The Winter’s Tale’ isn’t performed too often, so even if you have just a burgeoning interest in Shakespearean theater, I urge you to travel to High Park and see the production. It’s only 90 minutes long and very satisfying. It was fantastic to behold, and I’m recommending it highly to all my friends and family.
Driftwood Theater Troupe has a Pay-What-You-Can policy with a recommended donation of $15 an adult and no cost for children. They play at various locations across the GTA at 7:30 P.M. from Tuesday to Sunday, every week until August 14th.
Dream in High Park also has a Pay-What-You-Can policy with a recommended donation of $20 per person. The show plays at 8:00 P.M. from Tuesday to Sunday, every week until September 4th.
Both shows are outdoors, so bring along lawn chairs for Driftwood (which has no natural seating but grass) and blankets for Dream (which has several ledges built into the hill for patrons to sit on). Also pack mosquito repellant, as both shows run into the night, and snacks. If you forget any of this at home, both companies have on-set concession stands where blankets and chairs can be rented and food and drinks can be bought.