“Sickness is catching: O were favour so,” Helena laments in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, wishing that Lysander might love her instead of Hermia. Be careful what you wish for…
Love as a virus that can infect you in an instant; lover’s quarrels that have the power to turn the world upside-down and make “rheumatic diseases abound.” It’s curious what resonates in Shakespeare’s enduringly popular comedy about fairies and the fools we call mortals amid a pandemic.
I watched a virtual troupe of Stratford Festival actors pluckily perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream online from isolation last week. While the theatre company remains closed until June, at least, some of its company members are collaborating on a project called Stratford Pirate Transmission – broadcasting Shakespeare’s plays on YouTube using a video-conferencing app that places their solitary performances side-by-side in boxes.
If you missed the first broadcast on Friday, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still watchable on YouTube. Go to 15:15 to skip the preamble and jump right into the play. (Though, if you have the time, it’s nice to watch the actors introduce themselves and shout out to family members who work in health care – or are watching from far-flung places such as Labrador and Guatemala.)
Company veterans Michael Blake and Irene Poole play the feuding fairy royals Oberon and Titania, while a quartet of up-and-coming actors play the young lovers the fairies trick in the woods. Alexandra Lainfiesta is Hermia; Danny Ghantous is Lysander; Hilary McCormack is Helena; and Jakob Ehman, who excels playing comically dense bullies, is perfectly cast as Demetrius.
Other actors involved are Michael Spencer-Davis, André Morin, Josue Laboucane, E.B. Smith – and, burning with intensity as Puck, Amaka Umeh, who is set to play Hamlet this season (fingers crossed) at Stratford.
There are fun production elements that elevate this first Stratford Pirate Transmission above many of the Zoom play-readings happening right now.
Smith, in addition to performing as Egeus, has designed backgrounds for the actors that transport us from Athens to the darkness of the fairy forest. Sound designer Adam Campbell adds to the atmosphere by playing live percussion - and you can watch him at work from one box in the corner, like a visible foley artist in a staged radio play. Laboucane, meanwhile, has designed bobble-head puppets to help him play multiple Mechanicals at once.
How are Victoria’s vaudevillians managing life in isolation? Atomic Vaudeville, the cabaret creators who, most famously, birthed the hit musical Ride the Cyclone, have posted their first-ever online cabaret on their website.
Sometimes When We Touch, as it is called, is a mish-mash of music videos, giant lobster costumes, inappropriate interrogations of hand puppets, clowns misusing hand sanitizer, and children asking existential questions and bouncing on trampolines indoors. The variety show culminates with a mix of dance and drag set to original songs and shot by drone. In short, it features all the exuberant weirdness you’d want and expect from this West Coast troupe.
The National Arts Centre’s COVID-19 #CanadaPerforms live-streamed programming has focused a lot on music up to this point, but we’re finally going to get to see what some of the country’s theatre artists have come up with in terms of online performances this week.
My top pick: On Friday, at 10 p.m. EDT, the great Canadian improviser Rebecca Northan will perform her hit stage rom-com Blind Date adapted for a streamed Facebook performance she’s calling Mimi: Live.
If you’ve never seen Blind Date before, Northan performs as her clown alter ego, Mimi, and goes out on a date on stage with a person selected from the audience. There are lots of laughs in the long-form improv that ensues, but Northan – and other actors she’s trained to play Mimi (and sometimes Mathieu) in the show’s more than 800 dates to date – place special emphasis on getting audience volunteers to open up about love. It’s a heartwarmingly human piece of performance; here is my four-star review from all the way back in 2010.
There will be one main difference in Blind Date online, however. For 10 years, Mimi has had a rule that many others in the theatre community try to follow: Never date an actor. On Friday, however, she will go out on a date with one, identity currently a secret, who will perform as himself. You have to lower your romantic standards during a pandemic, I guess.
Other #CanadaPerforms shows worth checking out this week: Tonight (Tuesday), the playwright/performer Johnnie Walker will stream his solo show, Redheaded Stepchild, which premiered at the SummerWorks Festival 10 years ago, at 7:00 p.m. EDT; and on Friday, Pierre Brault will perform an abridged version of his show Will Somers: Keeping Your Head about a Tudor family fool at 8 p.m. EDT. All details can be found on the NAC’s website.
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