Summer on stage

By Monica Prendergast, July/August 2014

Theatre-going this summer provides it all: fresh air, exercise, laughs, and tears.

Live theatre is shared air. It’s all the more meaningful when the air is fresh. And warm. A midsummer night’s production is a dream just for being outside. When I lived in Toronto, I experienced the enchantment of Canadian Stage’s annual Dream in High Park. The sunsets and the setting make magic. Among enormous trees strung with thousands of fairy lights, the fairies alight; the performance a reunification with nature and all spirits in it.

Not that the absence of four walls is always a wilderness adventure. I saw a wonderful production of Twelfth Night on an outdoor stage in San Diego a few years back. It was delightful for its Watteau-like 18th century-style garden design, lovely pathways and bridges draped with flowers. 

Here at home, the Victoria Shakespeare Festival has been running for one year shy of a quarter century and for the past decade has happened outdoors. Two plays are performed in repertory for four weeks on the grounds of Camosun College. From July 14 to August 16 this year, the productions on this pleasant green space are Henry V and The Taming of the Shrew.  Both of these will be directed by longtime Theatre Inconnu artistic director Clayton Jevne, who also founded the festival and ran it before handing over the leadership position to Michael Glover, who has himself just this year handed it to Karen Lee Pickett. More information is at www.vicshakespeare.com.

Stepping indoors but still summer and still Shakespeare, a satirical rap version of Comedy of Errors, The Bomb-itty of Errors, will be staged by Vancouver’s Twenty Something Theatre at the Belfry in August. While the prospect of the Bard being rapped may strike horror into the hearts of some, for me it is inspiring to see the continuing interest in exploring the elasticity of Shakespeare’s plays for contemporary audiences. As much as I appreciate traditional interpretations of Will’s works, I am just as much stimulated by alternative approaches— revisionisms and radical mash-ups that often succeed in unexpected ways. Film versions set in high schools (She’s the Man, O, 10 Things I Hate About You); musical adaptations, (epitomized by West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate); and cross-cultural hybrids—if you haven’t seen Kurosawa’s Ran and Throne of Blood, why not?—all reconfirm the genius of the mysterious man from Stratford precisely by demonstrating the unlimited potential of his creations. 

Besides, the word on this show is good. Previous productions by other companies in New York, Chicago, London, and at the Edinburgh Festival have received great reviews. This new show sounds similar to the phenomenon of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) that had hugely popular runs worldwide from its inception in 1987 and over the years since, including a Belfry production some summers ago. So let’s check it out from August 5 through 24: www.belfry.bc.ca.

Staying indoors but moving far away from the Bard, Langham Court is offering exactly what summer calls for: a sex farce. A frivolous, international, blockbuster of the stage, Boeing Boeing is an English language translation of a 1960 French play by Marc Camoletti. Wikipedia informs me it is the most performed French play in the world, Molière turning in his grave notwithstanding. The story is about a playboy named Bernard, his childhood friend Robert and their shared efforts to keep Bernard’s three airline stewardess fiancées from finding out about each other. 

The play’s crazy level of mass appeal catches my attention. In the 1960s it ran for seven years in London’s West End (although it flopped on Broadway, go figure) and became a 1966 movie starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis. More recently, it was remounted in London and New York to rave reviews, and has been picked up by many regional companies, including Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre. The reviews I have read generally agree that the script is a “cliché-ridden contraption,” but maintain further that when performed properly, it can become a roaringly fun night out. Did I mention that this is exactly what summer calls for, a sex farce? Runs from July 24 to August 2: www.langhamtheatre.ca. 

OK, so we’ve gone inside, Shakespeare is no longer on the program, and we’re all out of comedy too. Well, there is room for something serious in summer, miserable even. Especially when it is sung. And a long-standing audience favourite, no less. Chemainus Theatre is mounting Les Misérables from June 20 through September 7. The 2012 film version has brought a new generation of fans to this 1980 show based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 literary masterpiece. I will confess that I find composer Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score rather tuneless, lacking in memorable melodies. The source material for the story is so powerful, however, I also admit that I found myself watching the film on an international flight a few months ago and I was crying copious tears by the ending: www.chemainustheatrefestival.ca.

After sniffling into your tissue, better get back outdoors again and fast. On your bicycle. Yeah, you read that right. It’s time to bike to a play…and another play…and another and…. Theatre Skam’s Bike Ride is a festival of successive short plays staged at various locations along four kilometres of the Galloping Goose Trail in Cecilia Ravine Park. Summer fun for the whole family? You had better believe it! Fill up your tires and be there on July 12, 13, 19 or 20: www.skam.ca/bike-ride.

Outdoors, indoors, either way the summer is not—contrary to the mythology of the Beach Boys— endless. Good thing Intrepid’s Fringe Festival is just the big wave we need to surf out the season: www.intrepidtheatre.com/fringe. Featuring dozens of local, Canadian and international productions, the Fringe is a ten-day celebration of theatre from August 21 to 31 that really shares the air. Be sure to get your fair share. While it is warm out there, ladies and gentlemen, while it is warm!

Summer finds Monica pretending she is taking a break from her theatre attendance, research and reviewing. But the reality is that she will be checking out what’s on offer here, in Vancouver and in London over the next two months.