Scott Bellis as Nick Bottom, the weaver. (Photo credit: David Blue)
A great Bottom can suck the life out of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This Bard on the Beach production is, on the whole, good. It is lopsided, though, because its Bottom is in very good shape.
Nick Bottom is only a secondary character in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," but the role is so funny he is capable of taking over the show. The main plot, the story of lovers, and a subplot about fairies, are always at the mercy of this character. If Bottom is very good, the rest of the show hasn't much of a chance.
That's the case here. Scott Bellis' Bottom is comic confection. The performance is a careful, studied piece of work that is truly original and may leave you gasping for breath. The rest of the play pales beside him. The energy drops considerably when he is not a stage, a drop that borders on disappointment.
Bottom is one of a group of local Athenian tradesmen who gather to rehearse a terrible little play to present at the Duke's wedding. The star of the group's play will be Bottom, the weaver. Bellis plays the amateur actor with inspiration from Austin Powers and Mr. Toad. He is a fussy, self-loving, and amorous man dressed in a heavy woolen Edwardian suit (by Mara Gottler) that makes him look as if he's preparing for a hunting party with some lord or earl. This Bottom puts on airs and tries to behave like a gentleman though he really hasn't a clue what he's doing. Instead, Bottom's a pompous fool with no awareness of his own ridiculousness.
This is a mighty performance. The audience enjoys a frisson of excitement each time Bellis steps into the light.
Bottom's companions (other rustics) in this subplot are all very good, including Bernard Cuffling as Peter Quince, Allan Zinyk as Snug, plus Haig Sutherland, Andrew McNee and Allan Morgan.
When other characters take the stage, audience interest plummets. The tale of the lovers is well-performed; the story of the fairy king and queen is less successful, but that weakness is rendered even more disappointing given the strength of the rustics.
Finally, the character of Puck can tie everything together in a perfect little package but not here. Puck is the biggest mistake in this remount from 2006. Two performances are especially weak, and Gibson makes a grave directorial error.
The main storyline finds its dramatic climax when the two young women confront each other in the forest. Both have been adored and disdained by Lysander (Chirag Naik) and Demetrius (Daniel Doheny) and all that fractured romance now comes to a head. The women rage at each other for imagined slights and humiliations. The actors here are good and Gibson directs well.
The women stand far apart on Bard's large stage so they must yell at each other to be heard. As Helena, Sereana Malani gives us her character's anger and shame. We see the real pain of a young woman who believes she is the victim of a plot to degrade her. As Hermia, Claire Hesselgrave finds her own character's anger and wounded pride. This furious Hermia is accustomed to male attention and blames Helena for bewitching the two men. Though the emotions are serious, the scene is very funny partly because both characters are mistaken and partly because the insults are colourful. This scene works well.
The subplot of the fairies, of Oberon (Ian Butcher) and Titania (Naomi Wright), is less successful. Their feud never feels heated and Oberon's speeches just drone on. So do Titania's. Poorly delivered Shakespearean speeches stretch time beyond endurance. And Puck, the potential star of any "Dream" production, is rendered here too nasty to charm, and without charm we have no comedy.
A cruel Puck who takes pleasure in inflicting pain belongs in another play. Here, he's more like a flying monkey from The Wizard of Oz, more a gremlin than a playful sprite, and it doesn't work. The character's smug and mean and unlikable. That said, actor Kyle Rideout, provides a solid performance in the role.
"A MIdsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare, directed by Dean Paul Gibson, at Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival at Vanier Park, Vancouver, until Sept. 20. Buy tickets here.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: