Staged along a berm in front of Hart House and directly under a beautiful but doomed ash tree (this city’s ash trees being chewed to death by beetles; a great metaphor for the bad relationships displayed in this play), the outdoor setting of UC Follies’ production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream allowed this play about the overflowing chaos of desire to literally spill out into the audience. The chilly nighttime also lent weight to the play’s theme of climaxing fertility and the following loss thereof.
Meredith Free’s Hermia was a standout. Her monologues were like confused-yet-tender letters sent home amid a frothing battlefield of erotic confusion, and lent an emotionally believable anchor point to the play. The performance of Shakir Haq as Titania salaciously embodied every aspect of a fairy queen, and Victoria McEwan was suitably waggish as Oberon’s main mischief maker, Puck. As well, Lauren Goodman’s Bottom succeeded in capturing the innocent longing to be noticed that lies behind all show business, and if not everything else, behind love itself.
Speaking of arses, plenty were on display, along with other regions of bodily geography. With a cast uniformly beckoning and beautiful, the play was suffused with a copious amount of raunchy stage direction. It is fitting, for desire has no rules, and propriety is paper thin, though the law has another name for Demetrius and Lysander's intoxicated groping of Hermia. The same physical over-excitement that made the play humorous and fresh to watch may have left it emotionally underdeveloped. Although, to be fair, when dealing with characters written to be self-involved and fiendishly hedonistic, it’s not surprising that a few performances were not entirely charming, nor fully convincing, all of the time.
UC Follies is currently developing a sketch comedy production with U of T Improv for November; as well as The Who’s Tommy, set to be performed February 2-11 at Hart House.