Jeff Green | May 07, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - May 7, 2009 Shakespeare in Sharbot LakeBy Jeff Green
Dylan McConkey, Daniell Quennevile, Chava Field-Green.
There were two big questions about the latest North Frontenac Little Theatre production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Could they pull off Shakespeare and would local audiences come out to see it?
As rehearsals progressed Director John MacDougall began to see that the production was coming together nicely and by the end of the final dress rehearsal he knew he had a good show on his hands.
By the time the second performance came about on Friday night the answer to the second question was a resounding yes, with a good proportion of the audience coming from a surprising source, the school itself. About half the audience on Friday was made up of Sharbot Lake High School students, which is not the norm for Little Theatre Productions.
They came to see their classmates Jordan Crivellaro (Lysander) Daniel Powell (Francis Flute-Thisbe), Kaitlyn Hannah (Puck) Kelsea Babcock (Peas-blossom), Cody Steeves (Cobweb) and Jayme Blondin (Snug the Joiner- Lion) perform, along with adult and child actors from the company. They also came hoping to be entertained, and from the start it was clear that the 350-year-old Shakespearian language was not going to be a barrier for either the performers or the audience.
Even though the play is written in rhyming couplets, for the most part the actors treated it as normal dialogue, banter even, which they delivered in a crisp, modern fashion, stooping neither to phoney British accents nor to Dr. Seuss-like, sing-song delivery.
Part of the credit for this goes to the play’s directors, Inie Platenius and John MacDougall, who adapted the script for a contemporary audience. They worked hard to maintain the flavour of Shakespearian language while at the same time accounting for 350 years of changes in the way certain words are understood. They also trimmed the play down quite a bit.
The set, by Peter Platenius and Martina Field, and the lighting, by Bernie Slavin and Noah Sullivan, used simple risers, hanging bits of fabric and one fixed and one movable tree to create the two settings for the play, ancient Athens and a magical forest nearby.
All of this was done on an open stage, with lighting being used to highlight a black backdrop for the Athenian scenes and the purples and greens of the forest.
The costumes, by Geoffrey Murray, were designed with the same purpose in mind. The Athenians were in classic toga-like garb and the fairies were all in red and purple organza, well complemented by Deborah Spaar Mueller and Nina Jenkins makeup.
The audience never had to wait through lengthy set changes; it was only a matter of moving risers on a few occasions and making dramatic lighting changes to make Athens fade away and the forest envelop the characters. Stage manager Mary-Lou Quenneville ensured that everything ran smoothly.
Cam Kenny as Theseus and Peter Platenius as Egeus carried themselves like ancient Greek philosophers in their Athenian garb, and in contrast to Theseus’ prospective wife, the Amazon Queen Hippolyta (played by Angela Cowdy) seemed rather sceptical of all of the Athenian rules of behaviour.
One of those rules, the right of a father, in this case Egeus, to decide who his daughter will marry, becomes the catalyst for much of the conflict in the play.
Egeus' daughter Hermia (Chava Field-Green) does not want to marry her father's choice, Demetrius (Dylan McConkey) preferring Lysander (Jordan Crivellaro). Meanwhile, Hermia's friend Helena (Danielle Quenneville) is madly in love with Demetrius.
If this all sounds confusing, it gets more confusing yet when love spells come into the picture. While McConkey and Crivellaro were solid as the male leads, Shakespeare gave Hermia and Helena some of the best dramatic and comic lines in the play, and both Quenneville and Field-Green made full use of them.
They were particularly good at turning the Shakespearian language into fast-paced, expressive dialogue.
The best scene for all four of the characters comes about near the intermission, when both female leads attack each other and Lysander and Demetrius get into the act. That scene was very well performed by all four actors.
There is another love story of sorts in “A Midsummer Night's Dream”.
From the moment Oberon, the King of the Fairies (Brian Robertston) and Titania, the Queen of the Fairies (Martina Field) take the stage, the intensity of their relationship, expressed more as discord than as adoration - in the manner of long-married couples, is clear.
The two actors completely inhabited their characters, putting all of the joys and jealousies of the two juicy roles on full display.
Titania's entourage was anchored by the fairie Willow (Pam Giroux) who provided the major musical interludes in the play, (written by Jennifer Benett and performed by Anne Archer and Anne MacDougall) and included Peasblossom, Cobweb, and Mustardseed (Dayna Stone). These characters brought a lot of colour to the play, communicating through movement and facial expression.
Instead of an entourage, Oberon had Puck (Kaitlyn Hannah), who pranced her way through the role, her face lighting up whenever she managed to bring pain and suffering to the young Athenian lovers.
As if the play were not complicated enough, Shakespeare introduced a band of hapless actors, who had been hired to perform at Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s wedding. The “mechanicals” were led by Peter Quince (Danny Sullivan) and included Snout the Tinker (Japhe Sullivan) along with Snug the Joiner and Francis Flute. The final member of the troop was Bottom (Paddy O'Conner).
Bottom fancied himself as some kind of great Shakespearian actor, and when Puck gives him the head of an ass and Oberon sprinkles a love potion into the eyes of “proud Titania” a love affair ensued between the two characters, much to the delight of the audience.
All is pretty much set right by the time the intermission arrives, and in the first scene after the intermission, things are fully settled. A triple wedding is organized, Titania and Oberon are reconciled.
Instead of ending the play at that point, the mechanicals are set to perform at the wedding.
During the Friday night performance, this play within the play, a scathing spoof of Shakespeare's own Romeo and Juliet, was a comic highlight, thanks to the work of all the actors, particularly Paddy O'Connor and Daniel Powell, who played the star crossed lovers (Powell playing the female role of Thisbe to great effect, a cross-dressing star-crossed lover).
You really had to be there.
John MacDougall was ecstatic with the outcome of the production, which was dedicated to the memory of Inie Platenius, whose illness forced her from rehearsals a couple of months ago. She died last month.
For MacDougall and the entire crew, the expression the “show must go on” took on an added meaning in this case.