Puck, at Bard on the Beach

Vancouver’s English Bay shimmers under the evening sky. Crowds of playgoers, flushed and glowing with the summer heat, move toward the white tents and bright flags of Bard on the Beach for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Because I’m bringing my eighty-seven-year-old aunt to see Dream for her birthday, I’ve splurged on the tickets. Our seats are dead centre, five rows from the front. Three high pale semi-circles curve like mollusk shells over the stage and frame the view of the mountains to the north. We can see sailboats easing toward harbour, people strolling along the water’s edge, dogs chasing sticks.  The stage itself is bare except for an enormous umbrella of what looks like perforated black metal, sitting to one side.

It’s time. The lights dim, thunder rolls, lightning flashes and a dozen black umbrellas rise from the park and move onstage toward the audience, the actors hidden except for their feet. The umbrellas twirl and retreat, revealing Puck, troublemaker-in-chief of the fairy kingdom.

My picture of fairies includes gossamer wings, pale trailing garments and sprite-like bodies. This Puck is wearing red and white horizontally-striped tights, glittering red running shoes, a ruffled tutu and a black leather vest. His blond hair stands in spikes and his bare shoulders and upper arms bulge with muscle. Someone behind me gasps. Puck straddles the stage, grinning, and thrusts his groin forward and back so that the frothy tutu waves at the audience. The archetypal bad boy, radiating testosterone and orchestrating chaos.

When Puck vanishes, Theseus, Hypolita and other members of the mortal court stroll out in formal clothes. Theseus is wearing a tailored black suit and Hypolita a long purple skirt. Two young suitors to Hermia are strangling in their collars. Hermia herself is trapped in high heels, an ornate blonde wig and a tight, high-necked black dress encumbered with frills and a bustle. You don’t need to know the play, to get the clear feeling that Puck will give them and us a bumpy ride.

There’s strife in the fairy kingdom, which means trouble in the mortal world.

Seductive, outrageous and unpredictable, Puck dominates on stage and off. When he leaps into the audience, pulls a phone out of his tutu and leans into a middle-aged woman for a selfie, people shriek with excitement. My shocked disapproval loosens along with Hermia’s whalebone bodice. So much for my traditional view of fairies; unleashed sexuality is a chaotic energy that is funny as well as dangerous and I’m no more immune than an adolescent.

Eventually the King of the Fairies restores order in both fairy and mortal kingdoms. But Puck’s epilogue stays with me. “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended: that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear.” It’s an important reminder: Visions come from the trickster in our ever-present unconscious, control is largely an illusion, and chaos can bring laughter as well as terror.

My aunt loved it.

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