Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan thinking outside the tent

By Spencer Sterritt
July 17, 2016 - 12:40pm

Though Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan always tries for some sort of twist in their productions, for their 32nd season they’ve tried something drastically new with great results.

Instead of two plays, the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the drama J. Caesar, they’ve added a third show called The Roving Show. The male actors of the troupe, feeling left out of the all-female J. Caesar crew, decided to perform their own hasty version of The Tempest along the Meewasin Trail.

Prospero, an exiled duke, uses a massive storm to bring his enemies from home to the island he now lives on. Once they shipwreck, the crew is lost and manipulated at the whim of Prospero and his minion Ariel. There’s romance and revenge as the crew comes closer and closer to realizing what’s going on, and Prospero learns what it means to be a ruler.

Though it’s only 45 minutes long and lacks the elaborate staging of the other shows, The Roving Show is the highlight of the season. It’s a fun jaunt around the trail with a hefty amount of physical comedy. With only four actors playing multiple roles without the benefit of a backstage to change their costumes, the changes and scene transitions become just as funny as the antics of the story.

Going along with the actors down the trail is worth it just to see the strange looks you get from people doing their everyday business along the path.

Much of it is played for laughs, but the actors can’t keep their dramatic roots from showing. It’s an issue all four, and many of the actresses as well, have in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They all seem slightly out of place, and never fully inhabit their characters. As one of Shakespeare’s more lighthearted plays, here it comes off very serious and dour.

Elizabeth Nepjuk, who plays the jaded and scorned lover Helena, is the brightest spot on the stage precisely because her character has the most dramatic plot. Nepjuk brings a gravitas to her character which none of the other actors manage.

Most of the play is played straight except for the presentation. Under the direction of artistic director Will Brooks, everyone is dressed like a garish circus performer. The over-the-top costumes help amp up the energy of the roving musicians and their antics, but since nothing about the setting has changed the costumes don’t connect with anything the audience sees.

Unfortunately the costuming comes off as a distraction much of the time, especially in the more dramatic scenes.

Thankfully the humorous scenes, most of which centre around a particularly egotistical musician, Bottom, and his desire to play every role, amps up the laugh factor as high as it can go through the addition of modern gags and some crude sexual gestures. It provides some much needed levity to the play and the quick humour keeps the proceedings moving at a good pace.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fun choice to start of the season, and is certainly something to look at, but those looking for gripping performances are best off waiting for J. Caesar, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s dramatic offering this year.

Adapting the story of Julius Caesar, is the tale of Julia Caesar, a warrior in a burned out future of all-women, grappling with depleted resources and shifting alliances. As Caesar becomes more powerful after her latest victory, her friend Brutus grapples with the repercussions of a power-mad leader and becomes involved in a conspiracy to kill Caesar.

Much like the clown costumes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t affect the play in any meaningful way, but isn’t as distracting.

Since J. Caesar is the truest drama of the three plays, the actors seem to relish performing meatier roles and bring significant dramatic heft to their characters, which was missing from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Actress Heather Morrison, who couldn’t quite land her quick and humorous dialogue in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, anchors the play as Caesar’s best friend Antonia.

Much like The Roving Show, J. Caesar wastes no time and barrels along, wrapping the audience up in the plot and the conflicting emotions of the three conspiring to kill their beloved leader.

Of the three, The Roving Show is far and away the best play Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan offers this year, though anyone looking for a dramatic play to keep their heartbeat up won’t be disappointed by J. Caesar. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only weak play of the season.

 

ssterritt@panow.com

On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit

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