Play summaries from the festivals and reviews from The Globe and Mail
A mix of fresh and familiar
Theatre critic Kate Taylor looks at the lineup of this year's festival
Saturday, May 18, 2002
The Stratford Festival marks its 50th season this year, but reprising the plays that it first performed under the famous tent in 1953 will hardly fill a 21st-century playbill at what is now one of the largest repertory theatres in the English-speaking world: There were only two of them.
As well as All's Well that Ends Well and Richard III, Stratford offers a season that is heavy on Shakespeare, and some remarkably obscure Shakespeare at that. But the populist artistic director Richard Monette has also included the usual crowd-pleasers: This year's musical is My Fair Lady and the so-called family experience is a dramatic version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
All that leaves little room for the 19th- and 20th-century classics that the Stratford, Ont., company has performed with great success in recent seasons. Instead, Monette celebrates 50 with a new venture: a series of new scripts by living Canadian writers to be performed in a 250-seat studio that has been cleverly carved out of a scenic shop at the back of the Avon Theatre.
Here's the lineup, with official opening nights listed as the start dates for the plays, many of which are already in lengthy previews.
All's Well that Ends Well is the one major Shakespearean comedy this season and Monette, who directs, usually lards these productions with more gimmicks and yuks than they can possibly hold. On the other hand he has William Hutt, a master of comic understatement, in the role of the King of France, while Lucy Peacock plays the doctor's daughter who cures him and then claims a thorny romantic reward. From May 27 to Aug. 31.
My Fair Lady is the well-loved musical based on Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, but if you think that means it belongs down the road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, think again. The Shaw Festival's Royal George Theatre is too small to accommodate scenes at the Ascot races while Stratford's tastes in musical theatre are increasingly catholic. Three actors will rotate through the role of Henry Higgins -- Colm Feore, Geraint Wyn Davies and Monette himself (who will also direct), with Cynthia Dale playing Eliza. May 28 to Nov. 10.
Romeo and Juliet: Miles Potter, who has previously directed Medea at the festival and The Drawer Boy in Toronto, tackles this favourite tragedy (eight productions since 1953). Can Graham Abbey, so pleasing as Prince Hal in 2001, light a spark with the docile Claire Jullien? May 31 to Nov. 2.
King Lear: In August, expat Christopher Plummer will favour the festival with another of his occasional star turns, this time under the leadership of the British director Jonathan Miller. Can Plummer, a film actor who has not performed a significant Shakespearean role at the festival since 1967, plumb the depths and scale the heights of one of the mightiest roles in the canon? Aug. 24 to Nov. 3.
The Threepenny Opera: Speaking of catholic tastes in musical theatre, this piece by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht marks the first time since the 1970s that Stratford has staged anything this musically daring. Tom McCamus, by his own admission not a singer, will bring his dastardly charm to the role of thieving bigamist Macheath, while actor Stephen Ouimette makes his Stratford directing debut with this production. May 18 to Nov. 2.
The Scarlet Pimpernel: This 1980s update of the stage adaptation of the 1905 novel shouldn't be confused with the recent Broadway musical, but it too features the exploits of the dashing Pimpernel, aka the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney, as the Superman/Clark Kent of the French Revolution. With Peter Donaldson in the title role supported by Sheila McCarthy and Peter Hutt, director Dennis Garnhum should have no problems with the swash and the buckle. May 30 to Nov. 2.
Richard III is the other play Stratford performed in 1953. Tom McCamus will be filling Alec Guinness's shoes as he takes on the role of the hunchbacked usurper. Martha Henry, who will not appear on stage this season, is directing instead. July 3 to Nov. 3.
Tom Patterson Theatre
Henry VI: Revenge in France and Henry VI: Revolt in England. The festival continues the history cycle it began in 2000 with the two parts of Henry VI under the title The War of the Roses. Leon Rubin directs Michael Therriault in the title role; he's an earnest young actor the festival has cast in increasingly meaty roles even if he has yet to reveal much depth. Seana McKenna plays Margaret of Anjou and Michelle Giroux plays Joan of Arc. Both shows run June 1 to Sept. 28.
The disputed and seldom-performed Two Noble Kinsmen, the other Shakespearean comedy on the playbill, was co-authored by John Fletcher and has not always been recognized as the Bard's work. David Latham will direct recent alumni of the festival's conservatory in the story of the rivalry between Athenian cousins Palamon and Arcite for the love of Emilia. July 12 to Sept. 29.
The Lunatic, The Lover and the Poet. Brian Bedford reprises his one-man show of Shakespearean snippets for eight performances from Aug. 6-30.
The Studio Theatre
The summertime programming for this small space includes three double bills of brief new works mainly by Canadian writers, a new full-length play, and two one-man shows about the performers' relationships with Shakespeare by Rod Beattie of Walt Wingfield fame and veteran William Needles, oldest actor in the company. Plans for the inaugural season in this new workshop space also included some short modern classics, but those were dropped after Sept. 11.
High Gravel Blind and Eternal Hydra. The first is a modern drama about a young man who receives a visit from his long-lost father written by Stratford actor Paul Dunn. The second features a literary rivalry set in the 1930s and the present, and imagined by experimental Toronto playwright Anton Piatigorsky (The Kabbalistic Psychoanalysis of Adam R. Tzaddik). July 13 to Aug. 10.
Bereav'd of Light and The Fellini Radio Plays: Ian Ross (fareWel) imagines the relationship between an escaped slave and an Ojibwa warrior in the 18th century. Director Idalberto Fo crafts a one-act comedy from early radio plays written by filmmaker Federico Fellini in the years before La Dolce Vita and Satyricon. Aug. 6 to Aug. 25.
Walk Right Up and Shadows. Writer Celia McBride tackles the issues facing adult children caring for aging parents. Timothy Findley, the closest thing Stratford has to a playwright-in-residence, produces a dinner party shattered by an eclipse. Aug 24 to Sept. 15.
The Swanne: George III, the Death of Cupid is a lengthy title for the one full-length play at the studio this summer. Playwright Peter Hinton imagines the young Victoria struggling with the meaning of her impending coronation in the first part of a projected three-part romance. Oct. 9 to Nov. 2.
For information on tickets, call 1-800-567-1600 or see the festival Web site: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca