SCRUTINY | Dream In High Park Offers Perfect Good-Time Summer Fare

By Paula Citron on August 29, 2022

Canadian Stage's A Dream In High Park (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Canadian Stage’s A Dream In High Park (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Canadian Stage Dream in High Park/As You Like It, written by William Shakespeare, directed by Anand Rajaram, High Park Amphitheatre, July 28 to Sept. 4. Tickets available here.

Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park began with Shakespeare in 1983, and after recently flirting with other performance formats, has returned to the bard for part of its 2022 summer season. This year’s offering is the pastoral comedy As You Like It, which has been converted into a play with music.

Now, As You Like It just happens to have more songs than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, but the likes of songsmiths Maryem Tollar, Lacey Hill, Serena Ryder and Kiran Ahluwalia have contributed material to flesh out the score, under the immense talent of composer/arranger/musical director Belinda Corpuz. In fact, with her utterly beautiful folk singer voice, Corpuz and her guitar are the best things in this production. Her musical interpolations are simply stunning.

In his notes, director Anand Rajaram has written extensively about finding utopia and so on being at the heart of As You Like It, but in reality, despite his learned treatise, what has ended up on stage is action that is farcical, and at times, downright silly. You could say it is perfect down market summer fare for the crowds who have come out to have a good time. Rajaram’s production puts the emphasis on low comedy, for better or worse.

The whole farcical element is heightened by the fact that Shadowland Theatre (aka Anne Barber and Brad Harley) have designed the set, costumes and props, all in their inimitable style. For those unfamiliar with Shadowland, the company is mainly known for its lavish community-driven outdoor productions that animate streets, parks and public spaces.

Maja Ardal as Eve; Astrid Atherly as Celia; Belinda Corpuz as Amiens (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Maja Ardal as Eve; Astrid Atherly as Celia; Belinda Corpuz as Amiens (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Words like quirky, bizarre and fantastical only begin to describe the Shadowland aesthetic, and the hats (headgear?), for As You Like It, in particular, are off-the-wall in strangeness.

Their charming and fetching set, however, festoons the walls with adorable oversized flowers, stems and leaves straight out of a cartoon. In fact, as you enter the amphitheatre, your first reaction is just how eye-catching and whimsical the set is.

For this production, Orlando’s faithful servant Adam has been gender-bent into faithful servant Eve, played by veteran actor Maja Ardal, who also functions as narrator. Ardal acts rings around her cohorts and dominates the stage when she’s on it. She also gets to speak the famous Seven Ages of Man (All the world’s a stage) monologue, purloined from Jaques, and I wonder how actor Dylan Roberts, who is playing Jaques, feels about that.

The compact cast of 12 mostly play multiple parts, with the emphasis on the four central love (or not so love) stories, to various degrees of command of language. As well as Ardal, Paolo Santalucia as Orlando copes with Shakespeare the best. He is a talent worth watching. Bren Eastcott gives an even performance as Rosalind, but is stronger when she is manly Ganymede. Astrid Atherly should be cited for making Celia more than a cipher, although she does garble her words when she is in high dudgeon.

The main thing is that the cast is energetic while looking like they are having fun, and if they are having fun, so is the audience. This As You Like It is a what’s-not-to like production, although, maybe not for Shakespeare purists.

Fatuma Adar (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Fatuma Adar (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Before ending, I should mention the show Dixon Road that began the Canadian Stage Dream in High Park season (June 3 to 19), under the auspices of The Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre. Dixon Road (as in the street near Pearson Airport) is apparently the heart of Toronto’s Somali community, and the musical looks at the travails of an immigrant Somali family.

What makes Dixon Road particularly special is Fatuma Adar, and remember that name, because she wrote the book, music and lyrics for the show. Yes, Dixon Road needs work as all new musicals do, particularly in filling holes in the story line and expanding the dialogue, but what an immense talent Adar is. She is already an accomplished writer/performer/creator, and now she can add composer/lyricist to her arts diadem.

I enjoyed the production (even though I got soaked with rain), directed with panache by Musical Stage Company’s head honcho Ray Hogg. There was infinite variety in the songs, and some real poignant moments in the story. I’m sure Dixon Road will come back our way again, as well it should.

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Paula Citron
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