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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

2009 Season Casting Announcement

In a press release the Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced that Brian Bedford has been cast as Lady Bracknell in next season's The Importance of Being Earnest. Also cast are Sara Topham as Gwendolyn, Ben Carlson as Jack, Mike Shara (formerly from the Shaw Festival) as Algernon, and Stephen Ouimette as Rev. Canon Chasuble. The show will be designed by Desmond Heely.

Brian Bedford is also directing Earnest, so casting himself as Lady Bracknell may be a tip of his hat to the late stage giant William Hutt, who played the role in much-acclaimed productions in the 1970's.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Memorial Service for Richard Monette

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has announced that a public memorial, a Celebration of Richard Monette's Life, will be held at the Stratford Festival Theatre on Monday, October 20, 2008, at 7 p.m. Seats must be reserved throught the Festival box office 1-800-567-1600.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Longtime Artistic Director Richard Monette Passes Away

From CBC News on-line

Richard Monette, the longest-serving artistic director of the Stratford Festival, has died at 64.

Monette had been suffering from vascular disease and was going into hospital for tests Tuesday evening when he suffered a pulmonary embolism, said Antoni Cimolino, general director for the theatre festival in Stratford, Ont.

Cimolino described Monette's death as a terrible loss for Canadian theatre.

"He had a Canadian voice at a time when we were still finding our voice as a nation," he told CBC News.

As a former actor, Cimolino said he was "blessed" to be directed by Monette.

"I always felt that actors were at their best under Monette's direction," he added. "He allowed them to speak with their own voices."

Although Monette was a larger-than-life theatrical personality, he was also an honest, real person, Cimolino said.

Monette retired from the festival in August 2007 after 14 seasons during which Stratford added a fourth theatre and an acting school, and again become financially profitable.

'Ran this theatre with his heart'
"Any note that you ever received from Richard he signed it with his name and a heart, and he ran this theatre with his heart," said actress Cynthia Dale, who joined the Stratford company at Monette's urging in 1998.

"It made such a difference to so many people," she said, recalling Monette's role in bringing musicals to the Shakespearean company.

"I think he showcased the musicals because he realized what an important part they were of theatre," she said in an interview with CBC News. "I think he was smart enough to realize that there were many parts that he had to showcase, and that being populist and making money was not a bad thing."
Dale said Monette "changed my life" by bringing her into musicals such as Camelot on the Stratford stage.

"He was singularly the most important person in my career because of the opportunities he gave me and belief he had in me," she said.

He was born in Montreal on June 19, 1944, and graduated from Concordia University in that city.

He received his first theatrical notice at an inter-varsity drama competition at Hart House Theatre in Toronto in 1959, where he took top acting honours.

He went to Stratford in 1965 where he played small roles. He performed in Rolf Hochhuth's Soldiers at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and the production took him to Broadway.

Moves to London
At 23, he moved to London, appearing in the British production of Oh Calcutta.
On his return to Canada, Monette played in the English-language production of Michel Tremblay's Hosanna.

He played more than 40 roles at Stratford, and in 1988, he directed his first play at Stratford, The Taming of the Shrew.

He was appointed the company's artistic director-designate in 1992 and was officially named to the post in 1994.

Des McAnuff, now artistic director at Stratford, said the loss of Monette creates an "immense void" that will not soon be filled.

"He was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian," McAnuff said in a statement.

"I will sorely miss his wit, his insight, his advice, and especially the warmth and wisdom that were among his many distinguished attributes."

Expressed 'some regrets'
Monette told CBC News in 2007 that he had done everything he had set out to do at Stratford, now known as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

"There are always some regrets , but basically I did what I wanted to do. And I've been at it a long time — my back was giving out, I was tired. This is a very difficult job. Very. It's 24-7," he said.

Looking back on his 14 seasons, he said the accomplishment he was most proud of was establishing Stratford's Birmingham Conservatory of Classical Theatre Training, which trains new actors and directors.

"They're the future of this place as much as the audience."

Monday, 8 September 2008

2009 casting rumour mill continues...

- further rumours around town (and in at least one national newspaper) have Colm Feore also starring as Macbeth

This is now confirmed in a press release from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival: Colm Feore will star as both Cyrano and Macbeth in 2009.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Plummer and James Triumphant in Caesar and Cleopatra

Caesar and Cleopatra
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Des McAnuff
Featuring Christopher Plummer, Nikki M. James, Steven Sutcliffe, Dianne D’Aquila, Peter Donaldson, Gordon S. Miller

The story: On the eve of Julius Caesar’s invasion of Egypt, the Roman general wanders the desert and ponders his role to the giant sphinx. He is overheard by the 16-year-old queen Cleopatra, who does not recognize him and is hiding from Caesar whom she believes is a cannibal. She is temporarily without her throne, but Caesar sees potential in her fiery spirit and promises to help turn her into a ruler and take back her rightful place. However, the Egyptians do not easily bow to the invading Romans or to a queen who has a Roman as a mentor, and as events turn ever more dangerous, the generous Caesar learns that Cleopatra’s intense ambition may overthrow all his philosophical lessons in political leadership.

For those unfamiliar with Shaw’s plays (usually performed at that other theatre festival), one could be excused if one believed Caesar and Cleopatra would be a historical tragedy along the same lines as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar or Antony and Cleopatra. However, while politics is a main theme of this play, this play is funny – there are so many quips and one-liners and significant pauses and back-handed insults that in less skilled hands the importance of the political principles would be lost altogether.

The indomitable Christopher Plummer plays Caesar, his comic timing and desert-dry delivery of a good portion of those one-liners is so dead-on and natural it is as if he is having a normal conversation in his own living room. As smooth as he is with wit, Mr. Plummer as easily moves to sorrow and regret. His sternness as he rebukes Cleopatra’s flippant dismissal of soldiers’ lives is palpable, as is his distress in the belief he has caused their deaths by invading Egypt unnecessarily (read: Iraq). He moves from being a philosophical leader to a sly strategist, from flattered idol to patient and fond mentor, and does so with effortless charm, revealing why Caesar is a man to be loved and feared at the same time.

Mr. Plummer has an obvious rapport with Nikki M. James, who plays Cleopatra. She has obviously worked hard on vocal projection since opening the grimly received Romeo and Juliet, and seems far more comfortable with Shaw’s prose than Shakespeare’s poetry; but here, her work has paid off in spades. From the farthest corners of the balcony seating one can see and hear that Ms. James looks and sounds as petulant and child-like as a 16-year-old spoiled queen should, but also, in the second half, as a queen who discovers her own mind - and her set of claws. She delivers the barbs about Caesar’s age with an innocence and naivety of a young but selfish queen, but is just as effective as she chillingly – almost gleefully - orders her nurse to assassinate one of her politicians.

There are numerous strong supporting performances as well – director Des McAnuff certainly chose his team well. Diane D’Aquila is at first quirkily funny as Cleopatra’s nurse, Ftatateeta (a superstar in her own mind), but is could induce nightmares as Ftatateeta grows ever-more sinister and viper-like as her mistress’s own sense of power grows. In a cleverly choreographed fight scene Ms. D’Aquila gives a Roman sentinel (Ian Lake) a run for his money, abetted by Gordon S. Miller as the genial and unflappable Apollodorus. The completely flappable Britannus is played by Steven Sutcliffe (looking remarkably like Errol Flynn, especially as he enters one scene on a winch); he is hilarious as he stodgily insists, dead-pan, on propriety in the ‘scandalous’ Egyptian palace. Britannus’ loyalty for Caesar is matched by Rufio’s, portrayed here by Peter Donaldson with an impatient gruffness that nevertheless allows Rufio’s fondness for the general to peek through his rough exterior. John Vickery’s as the just Lucius Septimus has a lovely moment of putting Caesar in his place, and Timothy D. Stickney brings both a sense of righteous pride and dignity to the role of Pothinus, the deposed King’s tutor.

The sets and costumes of Caesar and Cleopatra are as excellent as the performances. The set, designed by Robert Brill, comprises the shadowy suggestion of a sphinx, enormous pillars, the prow of a golden boat, and a glossy black floor reminiscent of obsidian painted with hieroglyphics. The costumes, by Paul Tazewell are gorgeous representations of Egyptian and Roman robes in bright, shimmering, pleated fabrics and rich colours. The nearly motionless figures of Egyptian gods - actors dressed in ebony and gold costumes, complete with golden masks of Horus, Anubis and other Egyptian deities - are the crowning glory to this beautifully designed and acted production.

Although Caesar and Cleopatra continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until November 8, tickets are going fast. Funny as well as poignant for our times, this is one play that should not be missed.

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