A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Review by Pan Wendt
If you’re going to do Shakespeare outdoors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems a natural fit. This year Play in the Park, Inc. chose to follow up last summer’s successful debut, a delightful version of Twelfth Night set in Victoria Park's tennis courts, with the Bard’s most famously woodsy play. This year producers Laurie Murphy and Jason Rogerson opted for two venues. The show had a short run in Victoria Park, followed by two weeks at the New Glasgow Country Gardens.
Word of mouth travels quickly in Charlottetown, so although I only caught the New Glasgow show I gather that Victoria Park was the slightly more idyllic venue, whereas the second run featured more solid performances from the actors. In truth, I’m not sure that the use of an outdoor venue was a strength in the case of the New Glasgow show. Surely the whole point of presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream outdoors is to suggest the feel of a fairy-filled, magical forest grove. Director Laurie Murphy made for a fun, varied viewing experience by leading the audience through the paths of the country garden, but I’m afraid the sound of feet shuffling along gravel paths, the sight of stubby spruce trees and red dirt, not to mention distant cars passing beneath sloping potato fields during the opening and final scenes, didn’t produce an effect that justified the distractions.
That said, after a shaky opening scene the show was a delight, moving at an exhilarating pace through Shakespeare’s high-energy script. Strong individual performances by several commanding actors
kept things moving while nonetheless allowing for enjoyment of some of the treats of amateur theatre—children horsing around in elf costumes, an informal, relaxed theatre experience, and a lack of slickness that sometimes brought out the great goofy moments in the dialogue so often missed by, for example, movie versions. In particular, Dennis Trainor’s calisthenic Puck constantly poked and prodded at the scenes to keep things focused and funny, and Rex McCarville’s nervous and pompous Peter Quince set the stage for the show’s most consistently hilarious sections, which involved a pathetically inept theatre troupe led by the central character of Nick Bottom, played by Graham Putnam. Putnam practically stole the show as Bottom, and his interactions with McCarville and the other well-cast members of the troupe were great examples of comic timing and subtlety.
This was, after all, amateur theatre, so one had to make allowances for the occasional weird accent, missed line, shaky scene. But what was truly unexpected was just how strong most of the acting was. The show was able to feature a range of actors, from total beginners to seasoned veterans, without feeling either motley or dissipated. It may even be that bringing unpolished actors together with pros kept the show fresh, and prodded everyone to reach new levels. I look forward to another season of Play in Park, Inc., especially if it is, literally, in the park.