Canadian Stage's annual production, The Dream in High Park, is a Toronto gem. The impressive wooden stage, the lush backdrop of High Park in summer and the grassy amphitheatre all guarantee a worthwhile experience every year.
Staging William Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," director Estelle Shook had excellent material to mould. One of Shakespeare's most accessible works, "The Winter's Tale" proves easy to follow even for a novice to the language; and with a running time of an hour and thirty minutes, the play proves palatable for all theatre goers from the avid to the reluctant.
Tracing the lives of two royal families, "The Winter's Tale" opens to the unjustified jealously of King Leontes. Preyed on by thoughts of imagined adultery, Leontes publically accuses his innocent wife, Queen Hermione. Imprisoned, Hermione gives birth to a daughter, Perdita, whom Leontes casts out of his kingdom imagining her to be a product of his wife's infidelity. Overcome with grief about his mother's imprisonment and his father's rage, Leontes' and Hermione's young son, Mamillius, perishes. Loyal aides of Hermoine tell Leontes, still mired in mad thoughts of pride and resentfulness that Hermione died as well while in prison.
Meanwhile, accused and with his life threatened, King Polixenes, Hermione's supposed lover, flees the cold hospitality of Leontes' Sicilia in favour of his kingdom of Bohemia. Only when the oracle from Delphi confirms Hermione's and Polixenes' innocence does guilt overtake Leontes. Years later, in Bohemia, Polixenes' young son falls in love with the daughter of a shepherd only to discover that she is in fact Perdita, the banished daughter of Leontes and Hermione. With this romance to reunite the two families, old wounds heal, forgiveness is extended and friendships are rekindled.
Benefitting from some very strong performances, the actors manage to draw out some of the play's subtler themes of regret, forgiveness and rebirth. David Jansen's portrayal of King Leontes balanced the portrayal of both maddening jealousy and acute grief. Jansen's command of the language and convincing rendering of these two commonly over-played emotions proved both skillful and entertaining. Similarly, Sanjay Talwar's King Polixenes provided an excellent foil for Leontes' grief and rage. Talwar's ability to create a relationship with Hermione and to communicate surprise at Leontes' accusation demonstrated his ability to convey genuine emotion while forging connections with the other characters. Catherine McNally stepped in to play Hermione because of an illness on the night I attended. Despite holding a script throughout, McNally almost never looked at it and delivered an impressive performance. She was energetic, poised and charming. Jasmine Chen's portrayal of both Mamillius and Perdita suffered at points from misdirected energy that came off as over-acting. That said, Chen's energy was refreshing and contributed to the lively pace of the show.
While at points the directing appeared to leave the actors with little to occupy themselves, the overall impression of the play was light-hearted and positive. A lovely evening for anyone looking to make the most of Toronto's heat wave, a hidden treasure in the park and a show worth watching, "The Winter's Tale" runs until September 4th.
Details: Playing Tuesday to Sunday each week at 8:00 p.m. from June 28th until September 4th. See http://www.canadianstage.com/dream for details.
For information about about other Canadian Stage products, see http://www.canadianstage.com/ for details or call: 416-368-3110
Written by Jenn Hood
Jenn Hood loves theatre. She has acted in shows including Ghosts (Henrick Ibsen), Coriolanus (William Shakespeare), Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare), All in the Timing (David Ives) and Death (Woody Allen). As a long-time theatre reviewer for Spotlight, Jenn is thrilled to be a part of the dynamic Toronto theatre scene. Recently she has begun writing joint reviews with her father, Richard Hood, which often require (in the best way) a large glass of wine.