Theatre Rusticle’s Midsummer Night’s Dream! Oh, readers… this has been a difficult review to write, though not for any of the usual reasons. I want my reviews to be balanced and considered. I try to avoid sensationalistic rhetoric, y’know; yet in this case, folks, it has taken as much restraint as I can muster to not just gush my heart out—so intensely do I love this production!
My deep affection for the play itself goes back some thirty years. I was an adolescent when I first encountered this lyrical text—my first experience of Shakespeare! And my pubescent psyche was quite affected by its lustful, fever dream antics: a moonlit forest overrun with duelling lovers, goofy oddballs rehearsing a ridiculous play full of sexual innuendo, magical fairies stirring up confusion with love potions and bodily transformations. I know it by heart and it never fails to thrill me.
Using the huge, open space at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre to its fullest advantage, director Allyson McMackon has done away with all props and set pieces, save for a large green circle on the floor, and she fills this space with constant, varied motion and sound.
This energetic ensemble is a vibrant mix of age, shape, and size. Costume designer Brandon Kleiman outfits these these varied bodies in a ragtag blend of style, texture and colour. From leather kink and glittery spandex to preppy slacks and pink valour—this odd assortment feels disorienting at first, but as the aesthetic alchemy unfolds, it all coalesces in thrilling defiance of homogeneity.
The cast sprint, stumble, prance and bound across the stage. With all this motion, you’d think that the text would be lost in the spectacle, but there is such fierce appreciation for it here. The performers’ bodies seem tied to the language—quivering and contorting with its rhythms—in a tight, visceral knot.
With her light, Michelle Ramsay conjures impressionistic patterns of twisted green branches and pools of blazing red light—saturating the space with vast, phantasmagorical possibilities.
Theatre Rusticle’s vision here is both whimsical and deeply erotic, in both its intimate gestures and the overall gestalt. This is a more boldly sexual Dream than I’ve seen before, a hypnotic frenzy of entangled limbs and sensual spasms.
And I was constantly surprised by moments I thought I knew well. I have never had, for instance, such an intense emotional reaction to Bottom’s reunion with fellow mechanicals. Their affection for each other is so very palpable. And I simply could not hold back my tears of joy at their hilariously bawdy, beatnik performance art rendition of “Pyramus and Thisbe.”
This is a fanciful, deeply compelling production.