Monday, June 13, 2005
Stratford Festival of Canada--2005, Part 1
A glimpse at the Stratford Festival of Canada
When most people think of the Stratford Festival of Canada, they think Shakespeare. In the 2005 season, that thinking is right on. The two finest productions I saw on my recent reviewing trip were ‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ and ‘THE TEMPEST.’
‘AS YOU LIKE IT’
‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ is one of Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedies. It was written just before he moved on to his major tragedies. It is not an original concept as it is based on Thomas Lodge's extremely popular prose romance ‘ROSALYNDE,’ though Shakespeare changed a great deal of the details.
The play follows the pastoral tradition of writing in which a story involves exiles from the court going into the countryside. While in the rural area, they would hold singing contests and philosophically discuss the various merits of each forms of lifestyle. Shakespeare used the same concept in ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream.’
The story begins with the ousting of the Duke, father of Rosalind, from the throne by his own brother. With some loyal servants, he hides in the Forest of Arden, while back in the court Rosalind falls in love with the orphan Orlando and is subsequently also expelled. Rosalind disguises herself as a man, a common Shakespearean device. (‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ for example has gender-bending antics). She brings along her friend Celia and Touchstone, the court jester. As always in Shakespeare's comedies, following unmasking and resolution the couples sort themselves out appropriately and all is happy.
The play is notable for having the most songs of any of Shakespeare's plays and for being largely amusement rather than plot based. Besides fine acting and very effective directing by Antoni Cimolino, the musical aspect is enhanced in the Stratford Festival’s production with wonderful new songs composed by Steven Page and produced by the group, Barenaked Ladies. Dan Chameroy did an excellent job as lead singer.
The entire cast is fine with special credit going to Dion Johnstone as Orlando, Sophie Goulet as Celia, and Sara Topham as Rosalind. Graham Abbey (Jaques) presents a compelling underplaying of the play’s most famous soliloquy, “All the world’s a stage.” Stephen Ouimette comes close to stealing the show with his delightful performance as Touchstone.
Technically the show was perfect. Santo Loquasto’s set design, in which he created a forest made of hanging opened umbrellas with ladders for tree trunks was wonderfully creative. The costumes and the lighting greatly enhanced the production.
There are several reasons to see the Stratford Festival’s ‘THE TEMPEST.’ The main on is the presence of William Hutt. On October 28 of this year, the day that the show closes, Hutt will be retiring. His Stratford record spans 128 roles as an actor or director in 40 seasons. In this production he will again play the pivotal role of Prospero. In 1962 he was the Festival’s first Prospero. The second reason is that the production is excellent. Under the clear direction of Richard Monette, the pacing is appropriate, the characterizations clear and the total effect is Shakespeare at his finest.
‘THE TEMPEST’ opens in the midst of a storm, as a ship, containing the king of Naples and his party, struggles to stay afloat. On land, Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, watch the storm envelop the ship. Prospero has created the storm with magic, and he explains that his enemies are on board the ship.
Prospero relates that he is the rightful Duke of Milan and that his younger brother betrayed him, seizing his title and property. Twelve years earlier, Prospero and Miranda were put out to sea in little more than a raft. Miraculously, they both survived and arrived safely on this island, where Prospero learned to control the magic that he now uses to manipulate everyone on the island. Upon his arrival, Prospero rescued a sprite, Ariel, who had been imprisoned by the witch Sycorax.
And, so, as is the pattern in Shakespeare’s plays, the plot weaves in and out until in a final speech, Prospero tells the audience that only with their applause will he be able to leave the island with the rest of the party. And, as can be expected, Prospero, in the person of the wonderful William Hutt, leaves the stage to the audience's thunderous applause.
Besides Hutt, Adrienne Gould is wonderful as Miranda, Jean-Michael LeGai is properly love struck as Ferdinand, Bernard Hopkins is purposeful as Sebastian. Jack James as Ariel, the spirit, is much too human-like and not enchanting enough.
The technical aspects of the show are very effective. The storm, the magic effects, the costuming, the lighting are all well designed. The dancing was excellent.
U. S. Americans don’t tend to do British farce and comedy well. Canadians don’t always to do U.S. musicals as effectively as they do other theatrical forms. This is especially true with shows that require some understanding of U.S. regions of the country.
Dolly Levi, the lead character in the Tony Award winning musical HELLO DOLLY, is a lower-east side New Yorker. There is needed cadence to her speech, an exaggeration of her purpose and a determination in her walk. Unfortunately, the miscast Lucy Peacock had none of these. Peacock, who was so wonderful in the company’s production of THE KING AND I, just doesn’t have the right personality or the vocal qualities to pull off Dolly. She sounded like an off-key sophisticate. And, to add to the production’s problems was Peter Donaldson, who also was miscast as Horace Vandergelder, the man Dolly plots to marry.
With a few exceptions, director Susan Schulman missed the musical theatre boat on this production. The exceptions were the wonderful choreography, Lawrence Haegert’s interpretation of Barnaby Tucker, Amy Walsh’s Minnie Fay and the production numbers: “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “Waiters Galop.”
As was the case with every major production, the technical aspects of the show were terrific. The costumes, set design and lighting were all top rate.
As one U. S. American said as she left the production at intermission, “This is the most misinterpreted production of this show I’ve ever seen.”
In my next column I’ll review: ‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV,’ ‘INTO THE WOODS,’ and ‘WINFIELD’S INFERNO.’
THE STORY OF THE FESTIVAL
The Stratford Festival of Canada takes place in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo. Go on-line to the festival to get directions.
Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet. My favorite B&B is “The Jennie Forbes Cottage,” a charming regency cottage erected in 1857 (www.jennieforbescottagebb.com). Owners Don and Kathy Spiers are wonderful hosts.
As for shopping, I recommend Davis Canadian Arts (106 Ontario Street). This is an art gallery that offers well-crafted Canadian traditional and contemporary sculptures, ceramics and paintings. For women’s quality clothing make sure to stop at The Touchmark Shop (137 Ontario Street). The establishment offers unique and one-of-a kind products at excellent prices.
For moderate cost and high quality food, try The Annex Room (38 Albert Street) and The Keystone Alley Cafe (34 Brunswick Street). For inexpensive food try Demetre’s Family Eatery (1100 Ontario Street). We had a disastrous experience at “38,” a new restaurant in town. No air-conditioning on a hot and humid evening, an uninformed waiter and a lack of ability to honor any requests for deviating from their very limited menu, caused us to leave without eating.
Stratford Escapes, a division of Niagara Falls Tours, is an efficient way to make reservations. For information call 877-356-6385 or go on line to www.niagarafallstours.com. For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to www.stratfordfestival.ca.