The University of Toronto’s community theatre troupe the UC Follies, this year helmed by Shak Haq, has been known for its yearly large-scale musicals staged at Hart House Theatre. But their long history dating back to the 1800s boasts a rich tradition of all sorts of theatrical endeavors, including the now legendary sketch comedy of folks like Simon and Schuster and Lorne Michaels.
This year Haq is starting a new tradition by performing unabridged Shakespeare plays on the hill in front of Hart House in early September, before the cold becomes too unbearable. The casual and rugged nature of the venue, and the huge hill the audience looks “upstage” upon, offers an ideal setting for Shakespeare’s text and Haq has used all elements of the space to his advantage.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that one play most frequently done in this style, but as Haq states in the program, this is indeed a comedy, which so many companies seem to forget. Haq does not. I feel sometimes that contemporary audiences and producers alike tend to deify Shakespeare forgetting that at his time he was doing something very rough and groundbreaking, perhaps not unlike the graffiti artists of our times; looked down upon by the higher, more educated classes.
Coming from a choreographic (UC Follies’s Threepenny Opera, click for MoT review) and fight directing background (Soupcan Theatre’s Marat/Sade), Haq’s direction is elaborately physical. In this staging, no opportunity for physical comedy is missed and no innuendo un-juiced, and the actors all bask in this incredibly joyous and playful production-style.
Perhaps the youth and enthusiasm of the cast, which included Haq himself as a bawdy and humorous Fairy Queen, contributed to the unbridled jubilation of the crowd at many moments throughout. I felt that I was seeing this oft performed play for the very first time.
Standouts among the tremendous (in both size and scope) cast include Lauren Goodman as the pompous actor Nick Bottom, who is later cursed to having the head of an ass. Bruce Scavuzzo is totally committed to his over-the-top interpretation of the regal and mischievous fairy king Oberon. Alaine Hutton is the love-struck Helena, bringing new scope to the character, at first getting drunk and later struggling to find reason in two young men’s sudden and absurd sexual attraction to her.
Really, the entire cast brought a penetrable levity and depth to this wonderful production, and each actor had his or her moment to shine.
You can catch this impressive outdoor production for the last time this evening, Saturday, September 17th at 7:30 pm. Do get out and see Shak Haq’s refreshing taking on this classic. Also look for Haq’s direction of this year’s UC Follies masthead production of The Who’s Tommy in early 2012.
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Park-on-the-Hill (South Side), 12 Hart House Circle, this evening at 7:30 pm
– tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, with a suggested donation of $10
– BYOB (Bring-Your-Own-Blanket) – it gets chilly.