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There’s still plenty to see on stages both in­doors and out

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Vivid Dream

A MID­SUM­MER nIGHT’S DREAM by Wil­liam Shake­speare (Shake­speare in the Ruff). At Withrow Park (725 Lo­gan). Runs to Septem­ber 3. Pwyc. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 41. Rat­ing: nnnn

For the sixth year in a row, Shake­speare in the Ruff have trans­fig­ured their east-end haunt of Withrow Park, re­li­ably pro­duc­ing one of the most fun, en­gag­ing and mov­ing out­door of­fer­ings of the Bard. This year, the troupe con­jure up A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, and as we’ve come to ex­pect, it’s a hi­lar­i­ous, ac­tion-packed ex­pe­ri­ence that will de­light both new­com­ers and Shake­speare afi­ciona­dos with strong, ab­sorb­ing per­for­mances and mag­i­cal de­sign.

Fans of the com­pany will be glad to see An­drew Joseph Richard­son (Richard III, Mac­beth: Walk­ing Shad­ows) back in fine form after tak­ing a break last season. He plays Th­e­seus, the Athe­nian Duke whose im­pend­ing mar­riage to Hip­polyta (Michelle Po­lak) pro­vokes a quar­tet of young lovers to take to the fairy-laden woods, and Oberon, the Fairy King who then com­i­cally mis­di­rects their ro­man­tic in­ter­ests with magic spells.

Po­lak, a vet­eran of many Shake­speare pro­duc­tions in­clud­ing with the orig­i­nal Shake­speare in the Rough that in­spired this cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of Ruf­fi­ans, pro­vides another strong sup­port – es­pe­cially as Ti­ta­nia the Fairy Queen. But it’s Nikki Du­val’s hi­lar­i­ous turn as Bot­tom, the vain­glo­ri­ous lead ac­tor in the play’s fa­mous sub­plot about a rag­tag the­atre troupe pre­par­ing a per­for­mance, that steals the show, and con­sis­tently scores the big­gest laughs. Known for her re­cent ap­pear­ances on CBC’s Workin’ Moms, Du­val has se­ri­ous stage pres­ence and killer com­edy chops that un­der the di­rec­tion of Megan Wat­son keeps the fast­lights paced funny di­aled to eleven. The show’s magic is ac­cen­tu­ated by its most prom­i­nent set piece – a gi­ant in­flat­able orb har­nessed be­tween two trees in the cen­tre of the per­for­mance space, that as night falls in the park be­comes beau­ti­fully il­lu­mi­nated to rep­re­sent the moon – as well as by glow­ing hand­held spheres that Oberon and his sprightly un­der­ling Puck (Tim Wel­ham) toss around to daz­zling ef­fect and use to cast their spells. (De­signs are by Nick Blais.) Short bursts of sym­bolic con­tem­po­rary move­ment by chore­og­ra­pher Pa­tri­cia Al­li­son nicely cap­ture the manic mad­ness and chaos of the ro­man­tic tan­gle, es­pe­cially dur­ing tran­si­tions. And over­all, the pro­duc­tion play­fully high- the frus­tra­tions and follies of fall­ing in love, but never for­gets the fun of it.

Another rea­son to love Shake­speare in the Ruff is that their grand vi­sion ex­tends be­yond a sin­gu­lar pro­duc­tion, and over the years they’ve done a bril­liant job of de­vel­op­ing an im­pres­sive com­pre­hen­sive slate of com­mu­ni­ty­build­ing and train­ing pro­grams around their season, in­clud­ing their Young Ruf­fian ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gram for teenagers, and the Guer­rilla Ruff Squad for re­cent post-sec­ondary act­ing grads.

When it comes to Toronto’s out­door sum­mer Shake­speare game, the Ruf­fi­ans are hard to beat, and Mid­sum­mer only bol­sters their sta­tus as an en­dur­ing sum­mer tra­di­tion. JOR­DAn BIMM

Nikki Du­val (right) stands out in charm­ing Dream.

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