Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Stratford Festival 2005, Part 2 (Stratford Festival of Canada)

A further glimpse at the Stratford Festival of Canada, 2005

Several weeks ago I reviewed the Stratford Festival of Canada’s ‘AS YOU LIKE IT,’ ‘THE TEMPEST and ’HELLO DOLLY.’ In addition I recommended places to stay, eat and shop while enjoying the area. If you missed these and want a copy of the reviews contact me by clicking on my website:

Now, let’s look at three other Stratford Festival of Canada productions--‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV,’ ‘INTO THE WOODS’ and ‘WINGFIELD’S INFERNO.’


Adaptations of literature are a common basis for theatrical scripts. Some transposing is easy as the length of the novel and the language development of the original work lends itself to easy transition. However, the thought of making a one-thousand-plus page book, and a Russian novel at that, into a reasonable length stage play appears to be a task beyond comprehension. Russian writers are noted for their extended story telling. They state, restate, go off on literary tangents, and use multi-names and diminutives of names for their characters. It doesn’t make for an easy read. Trying to convert a book such as Dostoyevsky’s ‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV’ is a daunting task.

Jason Sherman is one of Canada’s leading playwrights. His adaptation of ‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV’ was penned specifically for the Stratford Festival and runs there through September 24.

Written in 1880, ‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV’ is a novel about murder, ethics and religion. Some of Dostoyevsky’s personal life is reflected in the play. His youngest son, Alyosha, died at the age of three, of epilepsy, a disease inherited from him. After the boy's death, Dostoyevsky went to the Oiptina Monastery to consult a famous spiritual director, Father Ambrose. Father Ambrose is the model for Father Zossima in ‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.’

‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV’ is the story of a parricide. Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha, and their half-brother, the epileptic valet Smerdyakov, are the children of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov who is fringing on senility, is mean, and obsessed with sex. All his children, except Alyosha, hate Fyodor, but for different reasons. Dmitri is in love with the same woman as his father; Ivan hates his father because he so nearly resembles him; Smerdyakov loathes him for corrupting his mother and for keeping him a serf. All three want the old man's money. When he is mysteriously murdered, all are filled with guilt, although it is Smerdyakov who has actually committed the crime.

Much to my surprise, having struggled though the complexity of many Russian novels, I found Sherman’s script easy to follow and I was intrigued by the stage goings-on. This is a tribute to Sherman’s translation and the brilliant directing of Richard Rose. He has the entire cast stay on or on the fringes of the stage throughout the production. This makes for smooth transitions and forces the audience to become part of the action as we find ourselves part of the action.

The entire cast is excellent. Jonathan Goad is mesmerizing as Dmitry, the “bad” son. As Fyodor, the oppressive father, Scott Wentworth was so effective that audience members did much to control themselves and not boo when he made his curtain call. Ron Kennell was excellent as Pavel, the bastard son.

Charlotte Dean’s drab costume designs heightened the oppression of Fyodor.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though not a perfect play, I’d strongly recommend seeing Stratford’s ‘THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.’ It may be your only opportunity as the complexity of the show will probably dissuade other theatres from staging this literary epic.


Stephen Sondheim is the reigning king of American musical theatre writers. Since he charged onto the scene with ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ he has written hit after hit. His ‘INTO THE WOODS,’ which opened on Broadway in 1987 and ran 764 performances was recently reprised on the Great White Way. The winner of 3 Tony awards, it is a popular selection for community theatres.

Inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's book, ‘THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT,’ the musical intertwines a collection of Grimm Fairy tales in an unusual format which uses a Baker and his Wife's quest to begin a family together with the stories of Little Red Ridinghood, Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella. Also thrown in are a wolf, Jack’s mother, a giant and his wife, and a couple of princes.

Act I opens with a wish, a witch, and a curse. Each separate tale interacts with the others throughout. As the first act proceeds we become aware that each of the characters and their conflicts are motivated by selfish wishes.

Act II explores what happens after "happily ever after," when these wishes to have, to be and to get, have come true.

The script explores the consequences of the actions taken in the quest for getting our wishes granted, and the need for community in order to survive in "the Woods"--our world.

Songs in the musical include "Into the Woods", "Hello, Little Girl", "Giants in the Sky", "Agony", "Moments in the Woods", "No More", "No One Is Alone", and the haunting "Children Will Listen".

In an unusual method of writing language, Sondheim makes heavy use of syncopated speech. The characters' lines are delivered with a fixed beat that follows natural speech rhythms, but is also purposefully composed in rhythms to create spoken songs.

The Stratford production is excellent. The voices are good, the show is nicely paced by director Peter Hinton and, for the most part, the acting is on target.

Kyle Blair (Jack) is superb. Bruce Dow (the Baker), Mary Ellen Mahoney (the Baker’s wife) and Jennifer Waiser (Little Red Ridinghood) are wonderful. On the other hand, Susan Gilmour’s screeching as the Witch becomes tiresome and ear shattering after a while and Thom Allison as Cinderella’s Prince seems bored with the role and is less than princely.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘INTO THE WOODS’ is a pleasant production of one of Stephen Sondheim’s lesser shows.


The passing down of tales from generation to generation are important for carrying on the values, mores and morals of a culture. Some people are master storytellers. Think Mark Twain, David Sedaris and Bill Cosby. Often, it is necessary to be a member of a cultural group to totally appreciate the tales.

Walt Wingfield, the central character in a series of Canadian-based stories, is the creation of playwright Dan Needles. Wingfield has been performed by actor Rod Beattie for many years. Their latest collaboration, ‘WINGFIELD’S INFERNO’ centers on an elaborate ruse to fulfill the requirements of a restoration grant for a community hall that has been destroyed by a fire by pretending that the fire never took place.

Beatty portrays an entire countryside of characters with ease and clarity. Using few props and many voices and facial expressions, Beatty is excellent.

Unfortunately, for US Americans attending this production, many of the jokes and innuendos are beyond us. Comments regarding insurance, fire departments, horse plowing, wild turkeys, building committees, unicorn hunts, perception versus reality, and weather forecasting, which convulsed the Canadians in the audience, zoomed in and out of my Yankee ears.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Yes, it does help to be Canadian to truly appreciate the goings-on in ‘WINGFIELD’S INFERNO.’


Founded in 1953 as the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, the company is the largest classical repertory theater in North America. Until November 6, it will stage 14 shows in a rotating repertory in its four theaters. The Festival takes place in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. about six hours from Cleveland.

Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet. 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 For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to