Dream of a play our cup of tea

The Tempest best production in years

CANSTAGE’S DREAM IN High Park shows are high on the list of must-do summer outings for many Torontonians, despite the sometimes low quality of theatre.

Thanks to the company’s latest efforts, the bar has been raised on quality and staging. Indeed, Sue Miner’s direction of this year’s Shakespearian selection, The Tempest, is one of the more satisfying and intriguing in recent memory.

It looks at our city’s attractive, multi-hued (and gendered) public and holds up a welcome mirror: a black woman turns the male/magician/hero Prospero into Prospera (Karen Robinson) who has a white daughter, Miranda (the utterly charming Taylor Trowbridge).

Her shipwrecked and soon-tobe lover and husband Ferdinand (played by the delightful Asian actor Patrick Kwok-Choon) is the son of a white father, King Alonso (Robert Dodds).

There is no end to the role reversals, and it is all pulled off with aplomb thanks to the fine performances.

Let’s face it: Shakespeare presented in an open, forest setting can be wondrously correct. For Midsummer, and even The Tempest, it could not be more apt.

The occasional jet — and helicopter, the night I was there — can be off-putting, but as the wind rustles delicately through the trees and the moon rises, it provides additional power to what is the Bard’s most magical play.

The plot is one of the weakest and most awkward in all of Shakespeare’s canon. But director Miner makes her own minor miracle with the chainsaw cutting of the play down to 100 intermission-free minutes.

The opening shipwreck is “dramatized” by having a miniature, colourful, balsa wood ocean liner passed down, hand to hand, from the top of the seating in the High Park hillside down to the stage; what a delightful way to involve the audience!

The audience roars with laughter and sensual joy when the youthful and pretty Miranda visually lusts after the young Ferdinand, panting, “This is the first man that e’er I saw!”

And although many speeches are muffled by the wind or muddled by poor pronunciation, lines like “We are such stuff as dreams are made of / and our little life is rounded with a sleep” still move us.

Canadian Stage’s latest Dream is no teapot production. Sue Miner’s intelligent staging, the often breathtaking costumes, giant puppets, Caribbean music and beautiful, original songs using Shakespeare’s breathtaking words help make a trip to the area near Grenadier Café in High Park a must.

It isn’t perfect Shakespeare, but the price is right, and I would happily and safely take children as young as nine or 10. Dream in High Park’s presentation of The Tempest runs until Sept. 6. For more info, go to www.canstage.com.

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