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Thursday, 27 August 2015

More Reviews for Late Openers

Reviews continue to trickle in for the Stratford Festival's shows ...

Over to the right and down a bit are new reviews for The Alchemist, Love's Labour's Lost, Oedipus Rex and, in the "better late than never" category, Carousel.

(Google does not make it easy to find some of these!)


Monday, 24 August 2015

Due to circumstances...

Due to circumstances beyond my control... regrettable scheduling conflicts... I'm sure you understand... a series of unfortunate events... the situation being what it is... et cetera et cetera and so forth...

A review of Kate Hennig's The Last Wife is not forthcoming on this site.  However other reviews, for what most are calling an excellent show, will continue to be aggregated on your right.  Over there and down a bit. =>


Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Alchemist (Or, the second linguistically challenging play of the week)

L-R: Stephen Ouimette as Subtle, Brigit
Wilson as Dol Common and Jonathan Goad
as Face. Photo by David Hou
The Alchemist, by Ben Johnson
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Designed by Carolyn M. Smith (set and costumes), Steven Hawkins (lights), Thomas Ryder Payne (sound), John Stead (fights)

It is only natural that the Stratford Festival add Ben Johnson to its playbill from time to time.

That Johnson is a contemporary (and sometime critic) of Shakespeare would be reason enough, but Johnson’s plays have a familiar feel for Stratford playgoers; the language and silhouettes are often similar.

Stephen Ouimette as Subtle.
Photo by David Hou
However where Shakespeare’s characters might wear the robes of nobility, the robes worn by Johnson’s characters would have resembled comfy bathrobes to Elizabethan audiences – in other words, Johnson’s characters wore what the audience members themselves would wear. And where Shakespeare’s characters spoke often in lofty poetry, Johnson’s characters spoke like his audience, in earthy prose full of colloquial slang.

Therein lies perhaps the biggest challenge in staging a Johnson play – taking a relatable and funny plot and making it sound relatable to a modern audience.  A reference to “Clim o’ the Cloughs or Claribels” makes as much sense to us as “Superman and Lois Lane” would make to Elizabethans, but you cannot just re-write a Johnson play and substitute modern language (well you can, but it’s a risk that would certainly result in ridicule and scholarly ire).

But that’s why you pay the big bucks at Stratford – to see such a play interpreted and tweaked so well that the story feels as comfortable to us as to that original audience in 1610.

It is clear that director Antoni Cimolino took great pains to adjust the text where extra elucidation was necessary but it is so subtly done it is nearly seamless. His masterful cast does the rest.

L-R: Jonathan Goad (Foreground) as Face, Stephen Oiumette as Subtle,
Wayne Best as Surley and Jamie Mac as Kastril. Photo by David Hou.
Jonathan Goad is back in the type of role Stratford’s audiences love to see him play, a rogue and scoundrel who is sometimes known as General Face, sometimes known as the scurrilous lab assistant Lungs, and is really a gentleman’s butler, named Jeremy. Jeremy’s master has left London fearing an outbreak of plague (really happened at that time), so Jeremy has joined forces with a conman and prostitute and with them is merrily scamming the various clerks, merchants and hypocritical Puritans who cross their paths. Mr. Goad revels in this part as “the roper”, and the audience revels with him.

It comes as a surprise to no one that Face double-crosses his partners in crime, the prostitute Dol Common (“the lure”), played by Brigit Wilson, and “the inside man” Subtle, played by the  chameleon-like Stephen Ouimette. These three actors hold the reigns of the whole play and don’t miss a beat, even when the cons pile up and the marks start crossing paths.

Jonathan Goad as 'Lungs' and Scott Wentworth
as Epicure Mammon. Photo by David Hou.
Ok, they might have missed one beat – I am almost certain that Scott Wentworth caused two of them to nearly crack up when he appeared as the gargantuan Epicure Mammon. Mr. Wentworth went on the chew not only the scenery in this (literally) larger-than life role, but the text and audience as well – that is one actor who knows how to use an aside. As for the other marks (or victims) they include a slew of memorable performances: Steve Ross’s earnestly na├»ve Able (poor guy, your heart goes out to him); Wayne Best again showing off some comic chops as the skeptical Surly; and Jessica B. Hill as Dame Pliant – who may not have much to say but makes up for it in feisty, flouncy action. Just to name a few.

Oh, just go buy a ticket to The Alchemist and enjoy the ride through 1610 London already; it is thoroughly hilarious... and that is no con.

The Alchemist continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until October 3rd.

Heartfelt Love's Labour's Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare
Directed by John Caird
Designed by Patrick Clark (set & costumes), Michael Walton (lights), Peter McBoyle (sound), Josh Schmidt (compositions)

L-R: Andrew Robinson as Longaville, Mike Shara
as Berowne, Sanjay Talwar as King Ferdinand, and
Thomas Olajide as Dumaine. Photo by David Hou.

There is a reason Love’s Labour’s Lost is not staged more often; of all Shakespeare’s plays it probably takes the most work to thoroughly enjoy.

This is because most of the comedy comes not from the plot (four men take three-year vow of monastic life in order to study; vow immediately tested upon arrival of four beautiful ladies) but from its very intricate wordplay; wordplay that is refined in Shakespeare's later plays such as Much Ado About Nothing.

Arguably only those who have studied the text well will get the most out of the mischief and meaning contained therein. For fans of rhetoric – the good stuff, not the cheap imitation employed by modern politicians – Love’s Labour’s Lost is pure gold. The problem is that most people in its audiences won’t have had time for such study before seeing it.

The good news is that director John Caird has done his utmost to clarify the text. Of the three Love’s Labour’s Lost produced at Stratford in the past fifteen years, it is by far the clearest.  He has truly capable cast to thank for this, too.

L-R: Sara Afful as Rosaline, Ruby Joy
as the Princess, John Kirkpatrick as
Boyet. Photo by David Hou.
Leading the way are Ruby Joy as the Princess of France and Mike Shara as Berowne. The Princess and Berowne are not in love with each other, but the two actors playing them certainly convey a love of the play’s language. Ms. Joy is magnetic as the Princess; there is a weight to her performance that helps anchor those around her. Mr. Shara plumbs emotional depths not necessarily associated with the rakish Berowne, depths that make the lovers’ final parting – and the men’s promised penances - more meaningful as a result.

Juan Chioran as Don Armado and Josue Laboucane
as Costard. Photo by David Hou.
Ms. Joy and Mr. Shara are ably assisted by Juan Chioran as the love-struck, aged Spaniard Don Armado; Mr. Chioran creates a character who is utterly charming and full of wonder, and keeps him from being quite foolish, as Armado has often been portrayed. Similarly Tom Rooney takes the pedantic character Holofornes and turns him into a mercurial (and somewhat lecherous) linguistic nit-picker. Mr. Rooney is perhaps one of only two actors currently at Stratford who could take the cumbersome lines of Holoforenes’ and rattle them with such a concise flair that they sound almost normal (the other is busy taming a shrew this season).

Brad Rudy as Dull (foreground), Brian Tree as
Nathaniel and Tom Rooney as Holofernes.
Photo by David Hou.
The story is further clarified with some sweetly melancholic music from Josh Schmidt, and illustrated by Patrick Clark’s beautiful, crumbling garden set and sumptuous cavalier-like costumes, making this production a feast for the eyes as well as the ears and heart.

"Jack hath not his Jill," Berowne laments at plays end, but that our hearts go out to the separating lovers is a testament to the love that has gone into creating this production.

Love's Labour's Lost continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until Oct. 9th.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Still more news, articles and reviews

If I may direct your attention to the columns on your right, a bevy of new reviews and articles have been added for:

       - The Sound of Music
       - The Taming of the Shrew  - including an excellent interview from the Globe and Mail with Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay
       - The Last Wife (audio article)
       - Love's Labour's Lost
       - Oedipus Rex (audio article)

They keep comin'; I keep addin' 'em.

Next up: a review for Love's Labour's Lost.


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