Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stratford Festival of Canada 2011 reviews

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada is in full production

The Stratford Festival of Canada, located in Stratford, Ontario, is waiting for you! Great theatre, good food, and nice scenery.

My reactions to the plays I saw were:

Superb, totally involving THE LITTLE YEARS

Every once in a while a play and production so captures the imagination, and is so emotionally moving, that it deserves the designation of “superb,” in a class of its own. Stratford’s THE LITTLE YEARS is such a play and production.

In his masterfully written script, John Mighton examines how life’s circumstances, societal attitudes, and our significant others affect our psyche. The author rightly describes his creation as being, “about lost opportunities and lost potential.”

Kate, a math and science prodigy, is persuaded by her mother and teachers that her ambitions and perspectives are unrealistic for a young woman in 1950. Her brother William, however, is celebrated and nurtured for his genius.

As we watch, a transition of twenty years takes place and we experience the horrific effects of the decisions made. Kate is a self and other outcast, William’s star has burst. She puts her thoughts and feelings into a set of diaries, which when later found and read, brings about dramatic changes in the lives of both Kate and William’s daughter.

This is a poignant chronicle of a meaningful life unlived, but allows for a potential bright future for another person because the life was lived in the way that it was.

The festival’s production, under the laser focused direction of Chris Abraham, is compelling. Abraham has taken Mighton’s words and created one of the finest pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. Irene Poole is mesmerizing as Kate. This is an award winning performance. The rest of the cast works as a focused unit to bring about an ending that brought tears and cheers from the audience.

Capsule judgement: The Festival’s THE LITTLE YEARS is an amazing accomplishment. It is an absolute must see. I seldom give a play a standing ovation. At the conclusion of the production I was on my feet screaming as soon as I was able to get my emotions under control.


Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy. Despite the fact that the play offers a happy ending, in which the various lovers find one another and achieve bliss, Shakespeare shows that love can cause pain.

The play, which has been called, “one of Shakespeare’s transvestite comedies,” contains plot ideas which include that the clear lines of gender are uncertain and ambition is folly.

Like many of Shakespeare's comedies, this one centers on mistaken identity. The leading character, Viola, is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria during the opening scene. She loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she believes to be dead. And thus the elements are set for love, comedy and fun.

Des McAnuff’s directing is focused. The cast is outstanding, the timing wonderful, the visual and special effects attractive, the sets add to the production, and Michael Roth and Des McAnuff’s musical interludes are wonderful. Tom Rooney shines as Malvolio, Cara Ricketts is wonderful as Maria, and Stephen Ouimette steals the show as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Capsule judgement: TWELFTH NIGHT is a delightful production which nicely holds the audience’s attention.


It’s pretty bad when the best part of a theatrical production is the intermission.

This is the sixth time that the Festival has produced THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. In the past lives, the productions have been called fun, even giddy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the present poorly directed, poorly paced, mainly humorless production.

Merry Wives looks at life in sixteenth century Italy. Sir John Falstaff arrives in Windsor very short on money. He decides to court two wealthy married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. Through a series of fanciful incidents, Falstaff finds himself in a clothing hamper, thrown into the Thames, and generally disgraced. Duels, threats, sexual innuendoes, sarcasm, and rejection open the door for potential delight.

Unfortunately, in the misguided hands of director Frank Galati, the script falls flat. Geraint Wyn Davies is not funny as Falstaff. Nigel Bennett can’t be understood as Doctor Calius. Janet Wright develops no characterization as Mistress Quickly. And, that’s only the tip of the complaints.

As someone in the audience said at intermission, “This is the unfunniest funny play I’ve ever seen.” His companion said, “Let’s get some wine, maybe that will make the second act better.”

Capsule judgement: THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is a poorly conceived production that is not only boring, but close to embarassing!

TITUS ANDRONICUS…a compelling horror of revenge

In this age of racial, cultural and religious conflicts, civil incivility, and political intractability, it seems only proper that the Festival showcases a horror play about the folly of revenge.

TITUS ANDRONICUS is one of Shakespeare’s least produced shows. It is no wonder. Featuring rape, severing of hands and a tongue, torture, beheadings, rape, vile verbal outbursts, a live burial, cannibalism, and mass murders, this is not a play for the weak of stomach. It is a nonstop tale of abominations.

The play is set during the latter days of the Roman Empire, and tells the fictional story of Titus Andronicus, a general who returns from years of war as a conquering hero, but with only four out of twenty-five sons still alive. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron the Moor. In compliance with Roman rituals, Andronicus kills Tomora’s eldest son to avenge the death his own fallen children. This act earns him Tamora's promise of revenge. Thus the path is etched for the ensuing blood bath.

The production, under the focused directing of Darko Tresnjak holds back nothing. Performed in a thrust stage with the audience close to the action, almost too close as every vivid detail jumps out, the action is visually and emotionally startling.

The cast is universally strong, with John Vickery totally believable as Titus, the beautiful Amanda Lisman heartbreaking as his raped and disfigured daughter Lavinia, Claire Lautler, properly hellish as Tomara and Dion Johnstone evil incarnate as Aaron.

Capsule judgement: Filled with visually repulsive action TITUS ANDRONICUS is a repugnant lesson about revenge that is not an easy sit in spite of getting a transfixing production.

CAMELOT, a perfect place, a perfect time, a perfect love story!

Allan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe often center their musical plays on finding the perfect place, time and love story. What could be a better place than Camelot, (“in short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot for happ’ly ever-aftering”); the era of King Arthur and his “might for right” round table of knights; and the love of Arthur and Guenevere (or is it Guenevere and Lancelot?)?

The fantasy has wonderful music: I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?, The Simple Joys of Maidenhood, How to Handle a Woman, What Do The Simple Folks Do?, I Love You in Silence, and the theme song.

The sets, costumes, lighting, music, and performances are all top notch. Director Gary Griffin’s directing is traditional, but effective, and the choreography is in keeping with the music and the time period.

Geraint Wyn Davies makes for a picture perfect King Arthur. Kaylee Harwood is radiant as Guenevere. Her voice is lovely and she is totally believable in the role. Jonathan Winsby is handsome and sings and acts the role of Lancelot well, but he just doesn’t have the physicality needed for the role.

Capsule judgement: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Right now that place is Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival where the show is getting a fine production.

I did not get to see JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Sources I trust raved about it.

Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound. I like Avery House, 330 Ontario Street (800-510-8813) where Sue makes wonderful breakfasts and Judy is Mrs. Clean! Park your car and walk everywhere.

Hungry? For moderate cost and high quality, try The Annex Cafe (38 Albert Street) and Simply Fish and Chips With a Twist (118 Downie Street), which subscribes to the Ocean Wise program for fish stability.

My wife can’t get out of the Touchmark Shop (137 Ontario Street), which was awarded the Chamber of Commerce 2010 Excellence Award, without bags full of original Canadian clothes and jewelry.

Packages can be arranged by Stratford Escapes (, is an efficient way to make reservations. For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to

Go to Stratford, Canada! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!