It All Begins With A Dream…

As Keith Digby talks about his production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, he brings an interviewer to the threshold of conviction that this could possibly be the quintessential Dream for most Shakespeare lovers in the area.

In casting Dream, as well as the entire Bastion Theatre 1982-83 season, Bastion Theatre’s new artistic director has looked for — and found — young vital people with diversified professional experience whose careers have achieved the breakthrough point of international status.

The faces for Dream, which opens Bastion’s season at the McPherson Oct. 7, reflect this as well as Digby’s intense feeling for Shakespeare’s most lyrical and multi-layered comedy.

They are faces that collectively and individually reveal youth, intelligence, imagination, vitality and humor. Digby, with his wife and two young children, have been living in Victoria since April after moving from Edmonton where he directed for Citadel and other theatres. Not surprisingly, they love this city.

“I think of Midsummer Night’s Dream as a gift from me to Victoria,” he says. “We are doing a very lively version that I want to relate to this area. In many ways Dream does relate to Victoria.”

The play contrasts the mysterious forest, its creatures and myths, with the strictures of a formal society — the ducal court; a parallel to the way things were in the early days of this community.

There is no point, he says, in doing a 400-year-old play unless you can relate it to events, situations, places, historical or current.

Pamela Rabe in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' 1982
Pamela Rabe in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ 1982

“The worst thing you can do with Shakespeare is to give it an academic production. Shakespeare is fillable with the rhythms of our time.”

Still, Digby doesn’t like modern dress Shakespeare. “People will say that in Shakespeare’s time the plays were done in (then) modern dress. But they forget that the speech was also modern then.”

Digby describes Dream and the season’s second play, Ron Chudley’s thriller, Comeback, as signature pieces to his Victoria debut.

“Dream is a statement of the energy and life I like to work with on the stage. I love to get things moving — using the fly gallery, everything — to give the vibrancy and motion this play demands. It has so many colors and textures; the broad homespun comedy of the play-within-a-play, the gossamer poetry and the lyricism of requited and unrequited love.”

Of his largely youthful cast, Digby says youth in this case has little to do with range of experience: “These people have a lot of years behind them; they’ve begun as early as age 12 in some instances.”

Tall dark-eyed Peter Dvorsky (Oberon/Theseus) starred in Los Angeles in Ellis Rabb’s smash hit, Edward II, then moved to Broadway under the aegis of John Houseman, playing Clau-dio in Measure for Measure, Gaveston in Edward II, Vershinin in The Three Sisters, as well as leads in The Time of Your Life, The Beggar’s Opera end The Robber Bridegroom. He also played leads off-Broadway in The Lower Depths and The School for Scandal. His television credits include CBC and PBS. He has appeared in principal roles in most of Canada’s major theatres and co-starred with Peter O’Toole at Toron-to’s Royal Alexandra followed by a U.S. tour.

Dvorsky’s enthusiasm for his current dual role in Dream caused him to turn down a recent West End offer to again appear with O’Toole.

There is an account in a Toronto Star clipping, that tells you a great deal about the quality of Rosemary Dunsmore, the actress playing Titania-Hippolyta.

In 1981 she went to Edinburgh with co-star Michael Hogan in a double bill of one-act plays by Canadian playwright Charles Tidier entitled Straight Ahead/Blind Dancers.

Presentation of the play in the festival was beset by publicity bloopers — wrong title, wrong times, no mention in the guidebook and a hasty listing on a loose sheet of paper.

And to top it off the play was mounted in an obscure location that even experienced taxi drivers found difficult to locate.

This resulted in miniscule audiences, even down to a single solitary person at one performance.

The circumstances inspired such a fierce “damn-the-torpedoes” attitude in Dunsmore and Hogan, says the Star story, that the production shone and Dunsmore was named best festival actress by the prestigious London Sunday Telegraph.

As the fascinating-infuriating quicksilver Puck, Digby brings David Ferry to Victoria. His acting credits span Canada coast to coast as well as off-Broadway and Broadway, most recently at the Morosco Theatre in Hugh Leonard’s new play, A Life.

He has made several films and appeared on television in CBC, NBC and CTV shows.

Among Shakespeare’s classic comedy roles, no one is more familiar than Nick Bottom the weaver, and for this role Digby has snaffled Ian D. Clark.

RADA-trained, expert in all British dialects, Clark is said to be the busiest comedy actor in the country.

Vancouver Playhouse Acting School graduate Pamela Rabe, with a number of classic roles to her credit, is a willowy, starry-eyed Helena, the rejected one of two love-smitten ladies at Theseus’ court.

The other, and no stranger to Bastion Theatre stage is the exquisitely talented, elfin Barbara Poggemiller playing Hermia, beloved by both Lysander and Demetrius.

Another familiar actor for Bastion audiences is Robin Marshall, cast as Quince the carpenter.

Bracketed as his signature piece in Digby’s mind, is the second play, Comeback.

“It’s a world premiere and there is nothing more exciting to do than that,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of premieres and seen them followed up by successes elsewhere.

“This production of Chudley’s play, a thriller set in a Hollywood mansion, carries forward my conviction that regional theatres must do new plays, preferably by Canadian writers. But the plays must be ready for major production, not at the workshopping stage; a mature, skillfully wrought and polished script.

“Our production will not be the last you’ll hear of this play. In five years time we will be proud to say that we were the ones to see it for what it is and steal it first.”

As it happens, John Neville is also scheduling it for Halifax’s Neptune Theatre later in the season.

“It’s a rare occurrence, perhaps historic,” Digby comments, “for two major theatres at opposite ends of Canada, to premiere the same new play.”

Concerning the rest of the season, Digby mentions major talent coming this way: Actor Henry Woolf of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and his wife, Susan Williamson, one of the National Theatre of Britain’s leading comediennes who played in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Marat/Sade in London and New York.

Then there is Anne Casson, brilliant Shaw Festival actress Marilyn Gann and Margaret Bard who will come fresh from Scarborough and working with Alan Ayckbourn in London’s West End. to direct Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound.

Looking beyond, Digby envisions seasons that continue the high RPM of theatricality with which he is making his Bastion debut.
“But,” he says, “as far as I’m concerned there will be no second-guessing by audiences. No two seasons will be quite similar. Nobody will be able to anticipate next year on the basis of this year. I’ll always have a surprise in store. I promise.”

Source: Times Colonist | 11 September 1982