Bard's Dream WorksSunday, June 22, 2014
|Titania, Naomi Wright & Bottom, Scott Bellis
Last Saturday my eldest daughter Ale (a teacher in Lillooet) and I went to Bard on the Beach’s opening performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
Happily my daughter’s perspicacity and good ear prevented me from getting the wrong idea about lots of what I saw.
I will here admit that in my 71 years I have not read Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, James Joyce’s Ulysses or George Elliot’s Middle March.
I will here admit that perhaps in my hazy past I might have seen Mickey Rooney’s Puck and James Cagney as Bottom. I must here admit that had you asked me before Saturday who was the ass, Puck or Bottom, I would have not known..
But I do know that the famous overture to A Midsummer’s Night Dream was written by a Jewish chap with an Italian-sounding name, Bertholdy, when he was 17. Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn added Bertholdy so that he might better be accepted by the then anti-Semitic German culture. Felix was born in 1809 and perhaps almost did more for our concept of the Scots than Shakespeare did with Macbeth. Mendelssohn’s Die Habriden Opus 26 put Scotland sort of on the map.
There was very little Mendelssohn in this A Midsummer’s Night dream thanks to that sonorously inventive couple Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe.
What I want to point out is that I may know a lot more about Felix and next to nothing about Bottom and Puck. After asking a few friends about this play I remembered a Spanish neighbour in our home in Arboledas, Estado de Mexico. Gaspar and I never really chatted as he had a very tall barda (wall) around his house. One day we did converse and we found out we shared a love for science fiction. We exchanged books. I lent him Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius and he gave me Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris in Spanish. At the time I was not too keen in reading in Spanish. A month later we sat down for coffee and we discussed the two books. We did very well although I am convinced neither of us had read a page.
|Bottom - Scott Bellis
I do believe then that A Midsummer’s Night Dream may be one of Shakespeare’s least known.
I attempted to read the chapter on the play by Harold Bloom in his marvelous Shakespeare – the Invention of the Human. I got as far as figuring out that Bottom was the ass and not Puck.
The magic potion flower that gets this play into its confusing motion is the mundane pansy (viola). I was ready to criticize here that the folks (principally the director Dean Paul Gibson (sometimes I find myself writing Harry Dean Stanton) had it all wrong as the flower is not sniffed but its juice is squeezed on the sleepers closed eyelids (Lysander (Chirak Naik), Demetrius (Daniel Doheny), and Titania (Naomi Wright). My daughter set me straight as in the dialogue the action of squeezing the juice is mentioned. So I have not criticisms to report. And that is just fine as I am not a theatre critic at all.
It was theatre critic (the Georgia Straight) Colin Thomas, who told me (he was most enthused) that he was ready to wear Titania’s see-through outfit (her legs and thighs showed) so ably designed by Costume Designer Mara Gottier. On a later date, outside the Arts Club Theatre’s Granville Island Stage (the opening of Red Rock Diner) Thomas told me he had no objection in my mentioning his name in this. Next to us was the indomitable Bard publicist the spicy Cynnamon Schreinert who clued us in to the fact that Titania’s outfit may have been inspired by a dress Cher wore to the Oscars some years ago.
I must add that Mara Gottier’s rendering of Oberon’s costume, it made Ian Butcher (who must be a tall man seem like he was much taller man) look like a contemporary rendition of Bela Lugosi out to suck blood. It was striking and I could not see why Puck, played by Kyle Rideout found some sort of cozy tenderness to what seemed like his stern boss.
It is the latter coziness that methinks would have had this play closed on its opening performance in my native Buenos Aires in the 50s and in many countries of the Middle East and Africa Dean Paul Gibson would find himself behind bars.
If the average Vancouverite thinks that this direction is daring he/she would be mistaken.
Through the years critics have lambasted the play for suggesting that Oberon’s interest in Titania’s young ward was not healthy. Others have attacked the possibility of bestiality (Titania falls for Bottom whose head is an ass’s). And yet none of these critics may have opposed the idea of sex with the opposite end of the equation the satyr (human from the waist up).
And yet is was in 1840 that Queen Victoria
and her beloved Albert celebrated their first year’s wedding anniversary by
attending a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by Charles Mathews at
Covent Garden. Mathews wife Elizabeth, known as Madame Elizabeth Vestris played
Oberon. It seems that Vestris had most shaply legs and as a woman she could not
display them. I wonder what the Queen might have opined. The custom of having a
female Oberon remained a standard in both the US
|Elizabeth Vestris as Titania - 1840
Now a few who might have arrived at this point might wander how this chap knows about this stuff. My wife Rosemary always reads the program before a theatrical production. I like to be innocent and surprised. But when I get home I get into my bible, the Harold Bloom. But I also have Stanley Wells’s Shakespeare For All Time which I purchased a few months ago as a Champlain Height Branch reject/ withdrawn of the Vancouver Public Library for $1.50 ($1.00 for novels).
In this my first ever A Midsummer’s Night Dream I can report that the music is excellent, the dancing is top notch and the actors are all superb. Add to this that the whole play will have you roaring with laughter for most of the night. But is that enough?
Upon reading Bloom I found out that only Falstaff is more intelligent, witty and good than Bottom. Bloom further informed me that this play is one of the few that Shakespeare wrote from scratch without borrowing from anybody. He added that much of the dialogue is superb. And finally don’t let anybody tell you about the marvelous Puck. Kyle Rideout is all that. But the prize goes to Scott Bellis. He steals the show even over the prancing Allan Morgan’s Starveling, suitably accessorized bye a little white mechanical lap dog.
My advice is that to really appreciate this play you must see it twice. The first time you laugh and have fun and enjoy your special Bard caramel popcorn (there is, spoiler alert, a popcorn fight between Demetrius and Lysander). The second time (after taking out Bloom’s book from the library); go and see it for all the heavy stuff.
The play within the play, there are two others in Shakespeare, in Hamlet and in Love's Labour’s Lost, in this production is hilarious and worth the price of admission. The mechanicals, Quince (played by an almost straight and calm Bernard Cuffling), Snug, (Allan Zinyk as a very funny inoffensive lion), Flute (Haig Sutherland who plays a woman to perfection), Snout (Andrew McNee who just returned from Hadrian’s Wall for inspiration) and the prancing Alan Morgan as Starveling. But again it is Bottom (Scott Bellis) who shines here. The women, particularly Hermia (Claire Hesselgrave), Helena (Sereana Malani), Titania (Naomi Wright) and Philostrate (Louisa Jojic) are just fine. Shakespeare this time around showered the men with better lines.
Thanks to Stanley Well’s Shakespeare book I discovered this. You will be surprised.