This week I treated myself to a binge of Theatre at the Stratford (Ontario) Festival.
On Wednesday I took in six hours of Shakespeare! I was totally absorbed in the matinee performance of King Lear, recalling lines from when I studied it in Grade 13 (fifty years ago). I had seen William Hutt as Lear back then and have always wondered if anyone else could match his interpretation. Colm Feore certainly is up to the task. Later this month I start rehearsal for the Kings Town Players production of August: Osage County. I thought that the Weston family was about as dysfunctional as it gets – but after three hours with the Lear’s and the Gloucesters, I think that Shakespeare’s bunch take the prize.
The bare thrust stage at the Festival Theatre converted to a summer garden party for Midsummer Night’s Dream. As the audience came in, actors as partygoers, mingled and chatted with them.
That evening, after a great summer meal on a downtown patio, I returned to the theatre to find the stage transformed from its classical bare bones into a colourful outdoor garden. Midsummer Night’s Dream was was presented as if it were a play put on by friends for a couple celebrating their wedding. In keeping with 2014, the married couple was interracial and two men. Even in the play, Lysander (written by Shakespeare as a male role, part of the central love triangle) is played by a woman, as a woman.
This adds a whole new wrinkle to the play and reminded me of a concert that my daughter and I went to earlier this year in Toronto. It was part of the Luminato Festival. Created by Rufus Wainwright it was entitled “If I Loved You” – men singing traditional Broadway (love) songs, sometimes to each other. By intermission the gender thing had disappeared and it was quite remarkable to hear songs like “We Kiss in a Shadow” or “People Will Say We’re In Love” or “There’s a Place for Us” , songs you usually associate as duets between a man and a woman, being sung by two men. (Other performers besides Rufus, included Josh Grobin, Brent Carver, Boy George and Steven Page).
But I digress.
Many of the cast of Lear were also in “Dream”. It was really fun to see the actor who played Edgar on the heath in the afternoon be Titania, the Fairy Queen at night. I particularly enjoyed Mike Shara, who, in King Lear, played a nasty Cornwall, gouging out Gloucester’s eyes but in the evening was a silly lanky lovestruck Demetrius in torn jeans. Gloucester played by Scott Wentworth had also recovered by 8pm to join the party. The remarkable Stephen Ouimette is the Fool in Lear and Bottom in “Dream”. His comedic timing rivals Lucille Ball. It is always a pleasure to watch him perform.
And kudos to our Kingston friend, Brett Christopher, who was Assistant Director for this creative and engaging production.
The same stage prior to the opening of Crazy For You.
On Thursday afternoon I took my 94 year old Dad, my daughter (won’t say her age) and my 6 year old granddaughter to see Crazy For You. Once again the main stage had been transformed into something completely different. We were in the second row and right beside one of the downstage exits so it practically put us in the performance.
Dad’s vision isn’t good and I was not sure if he was snoozing or just resting his eyes at one point as 30 energetic performers about 8 feet away from us sang their lungs out and tap danced. On a couple of occasions, he did look up and, in a stage whisper (quite literally as we were almost ON the stage), say
“Boy, they sure can dance, can’t they?”
Emma was entranced and clapped vigorously after each number. Some of the smiling, actors made eye contact with her when they were tap dancing their heart out near the front of the stage and one gave her a little wave during the curtain call which Emma returned. I wondered if they were looking down and seeing Emma and thinking fondly of their dreams to be dancers on a stage like this when they grew up. I told Emma that when she was doing something like this when she was an adult she must remember to wink at the little girls in the audience who are dreaming of being up there some day.
I am awed by the energy and talent and creativity at the Stratford Festival. I can’t believe how smoothly and quickly the stage transforms in front of you between scenes – like magic. I also marvel at the actors who (seemingly) effortlessly put on hours of performance as two completely different characters, making each role fresh and exciting.
The visit to Stratford Festival 2014 was, indeed, a memorable treat.
Stephen Ouimette (left) as Bottom, Evan Buliung as Titania and Jonathan Goad as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the same afternoon these three were in King Lear playing the Fool, Edgar and Kent. Photo by Erin Samuell. (Stratford Festival website)