High Park ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is fast and frothy

Jamie Robinson’s production marks 40th anniversary of Canadian Stage’s programming in the park

What: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Where: High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor St. W. (20-minute walk from High Park station)
When: Now, until Sept. 3
Highlight: Jackie Chau’s colourful set and costume design
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: The light production is an easy, pleasing way to celebrate Canadian Stage’s 40 years in the park.

ON MY WAY to see Canadian Stage’s new High Park production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I pass an altercation that later ends up in the news: a city employee inching their vehicle into someone holding a sign that says “Ban cars.”

Those words reference the city’s recent decision to lessen car access to the area. Something that won’t be changing anytime soon, however, is Canadian Stage’s presence in the rocky High Park Amphitheatre; this year marks four decades of the company’s programming there.

Like many a park Shakespeare, Jamie Robinson’s frothy A Midsummer Night’s Dream cuts the script down to 90 minutes and emphasizes its lightest aspects. This leads to a production that’s agreeable and visually resplendent if a tad rushed.

The play features three sets of characters: bickering fairies, amateur players rehearsing a lousy version of a tragedy and Athenians preparing for a royal wedding.

Robinson reimagines the players as construction-vest-wearing members of CUPE Local 79, and the lower floor of Jackie Chau’s two-level set is littered with full garbage bags in rainbow colours. This is a riff on medieval English drama: before Shakespeare and the professionalization of theatres, drama was performed by guilds of labourers. A group of carpenters would make up a play while working and then perform it for their town. (In the original text, the players are each different tradespeople.)

Chau, who also did costumes, has fairy trickster Puck (Steven Hao) begin the show in similar work garb. But he soon strips it off to reveal wings and patchwork overalls — an abstract, iridescent aesthetic similar to the painted walls of the set’s upper level, where the magical creatures tend to hang around.

Puck’s interest in the players positions them as the focus of this production — and, accordingly, Robinson trims down their scenes the least. This leaves the Athenians, costumed in a kind of Ossington-strip chic, in an odd position. They’re usually the play’s centre, but here, they’re more like rich brats running around in the background. Next to the unionized construction workers, this almost reads as class satire.

The best part of any outdoor show is feeling your eyes adjust as the sun sets. Lighting designer Logan Raju Cracknell expertly helps us towards that pleasure — as the night goes on, his rich designs deepen Chau’s already vibrant colour scheme into a glowing wall of Ozian polychrome. Dreamlike, yes.

Ninety minutes is a sensible length for pay-what-you-can Shakespeare — it ensures the production is quick-moving and accessible. In this case, though, I find everything moves a little too fast. Pauses are rare, meaning that text, rather than action, carries most of the storytelling. The exception is the construction workers’ tragedy, performed in the play’s final scene; Robinson draws out several moments of that lengthy sequence to comedic effect. This commitment to action is an exciting way to end the evening — it just takes a while to get there.