Blithe Spirit

October 7, 2013

It was so much fun. Clever, lovely, seemingly light-as-air (like Elvira), but with a heart…

I do think in the same way I loved the Romantics and now find them stilted, I’ve gotten over the drawing room comedy. Perfectly entertaining as it is, and this one was perfectly presented, it’s stuffed full, where I yearn for spareness. I can love the wit of Wilde and Coward, but I may just be done going to see them.

A quick read may be a different story…I love that these couples fight in their smart, fiery way, and still so clearly love each other so much. Shades of Beatrice and Benedick…with a clever mid-century twist.

Waiting for Godot

September 7, 2013

This may have been the most perfect piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

The acting was stunning. Tom Rooney and Stephen Ouimette were fabulously balanced; Brian Dennehy was, well, Brian Dennehy; Randy Hughson was heartbreaking and terrifying as Lucky (what a name!) and even the boy(s?) stood their test well.

In the program the director talks about silence and space, and these things are all, in Waiting. How to pass the time while waiting leads to the question of how to exist in time and space when you don’t have any effect…on anything…even to the extent of not knowing where one was the day before.

And what to say about Beckett? It’s as though, in its spareness, the play contains multitudes. The other line to strike me from the program was that “Godot is a comedy whose actions take place in the field of tragedy.” I think this is what we were getting at at intermission as we discussed cruelty/evil in the play. Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky is a scandal, as Vladimir exclaims, but he may not be innately cruel. The world they live in has treated all of them very cruelly, though (if Vladimir and Estragon were to “drop” Godot, he’d punish them, Didi says).

It’s levels upon levels upon levels. There’s the social/class commentary of Pozzo/Lucky and the situation of V. and E., tied up in postwar concerns. There’s meta-theatrical commentary (“But nothing happens!”). These lead to the existential problem — the centre cannot hold; how to find meaning in a world in stasis, with no reaction to (and barely any memory of) your presence.

It’s so spare that every line is endowed with an incredible amount of meaning. And the people who brought it to life were masters, all.

It was understudy day at Tommy (from Captain Walker on down), and I’m amazed at how many of the players were making their Stratford debuts (all the way up to Robert Markus, Tommy himself), but Pete and Des’ show is resilient and vivid.

Everything’s been consolidated and condensed from the album and from Russell’s sprawling movie. With a few decades’ distance and the partnership of Des, Townshend’s vague story comes into focus. The relationships between the 40s, 50s and 60s, and between celebrity and spirituality, get more clear.

The direction and choreography, and lots of McAnuff’s team, are from the Broadway run in the 1990s. New to this production are some incredible visual effects, including the use of live video shot by cast members (and yes, Des directed that 2009 Macbeth with those stunning videos!).

I think the best gig I’ve ever seen on a Stratford stage is riding a spinning, bumping, sparking, flaming pinball machine.

Faith Healer

July 2, 2013

So much to think about in Faith Healer, I’m not entirely sure what all to write.

When I read a very short description of the play (the work of a faith healer is described in monologues by him, his wife/mistress, and his manager, somehow trying to get through memory and confusion to something like truth), I was fascinated. And then I saw the cast: two Shaw favourites, Jim Mezon and Peter Krantz, plus (for us) a relative newcomer in Corrine Koslo, who was more than able to hold her own, offering a tour de force…but I can’t say that, because all three of them were so perfectly balanced.

And balance is such a strange thing to say about the acting, because the whole play is about being off-balance and searching for it. We can never be sure, until the end, what “happened”. All these filters of performance and story and history and memory. We only come to some conclusion in the last line: “At long last I was renouncing chance.” Claiming certainty from a trio of lives that have been characterized by miracle and sorrow but most of all by uncertainty.

Mom caught the thread by intermission, and it held true. Frank, the faith healer, as the ‘expression’, language, show. Grace (what a name!) as ’emotion’. We wondered if Teddy would play the role of ‘truth’. The trickster, huckster, fool — but TRUE.

And all three of these pieces are the keys to narration, story, memory. How we make sense of our lives. Poetic expression, strong emotion, coming to truth. At the end, what survives is what’s true.

Book of Mormon

June 16, 2013

Fun, fun, fun. Hilarious, heartwarming, great songs and choreography.

Hadn’t been at Shea’s in Buffalo since I’ve been a child, but it was just as wondrous a place now as then (what old glamour!). Full of theatrical pomp.

Wasn’t the best place, at least from our seats, to hear all of the show. Overamplified, I think. Excited to listen to the cast recording and catch all the quick, quiet jokes we missed.

Cast was amazing. Mark Evans, Elder Price, is from the UK. Christopher John O’Neill, Elder Cunningham, is unbelieveably making his professional debut. And one or two young Canadians in the company, too.

Excited for what Parker, Stone and Lopez do next…but it’s awfully hard to imagine it’ll be even better than Book of Mormon.


Mary Stuart

May 18, 2013

Lucy Peacock and Seana McKenna were absolutely fantastic together as Mary and Elizabeth. Seana, especially, in turns strong and terrifying and isolated and paranoid.

And a great supporting cast. Ben Carlson and Geraint Wyn-Davies as Mary’s prosecutor and her lover; but not all bad and good. We’d take Burleigh’s straightforward nature over Leicester’s two-faced power grab any time. At least neither loses his head.

Brian Dennehy as Shrewsbury says he lacks the necessary “flexibility” to be a part of Elizabeth’s court. But while the threat from Mary herself may not warrant Elizabeth’s actions, the play leaves it an open question: lonely is the head that wears the crown, especially in such a time of turmoil. The acting brought moments of great subtlety to the question. I’m interested to read if the written play is more subtle than, at times, it seemed.

A Real Story

November 30, 2012

Been reading quite a bit of biography/memoir lately, and, as with biographical films (Man in the Moon, Capote, Iron Lady, My Week with Marilyn), it often seems to be quite hard to capture the essence of a person’s life and make an engaging story. Most have flashes of brilliance (in the movies, the performances are all excellent), but to find one that’s a gem all the way through is unusual.

I didn’t know a lot about Gordon Pinsent. Hap on Red Green, voiceover work, CBC cameos, and the stunning Away from Her (will be making the husband watch it with me, soon, I think). But what I knew, I liked, and the great Newfie grin on the cover sealed the deal, so I took the book home.

One thing I hadn’t known was how much Pinsent is a writer, and it comes across loud and clear, here. It’s not stream-of-consciousness, but it’s very much a personal voice, and at first it takes some getting used to. But once you’re into it, it’s musical and engaging. There are a lot of small moments, but unlike some memoirs, there’s a feeling of the overarching narrative that puts everything in the right place.

A few passages are asides–I shouldn’t say that, they’re really some of the meat of the story–to his wife, actress Charmion King, who died in 2007 (Josephine Barry in the Sullivan Anne of Green Gables, as well as years and years treading the boards). It’s a real love story, and Pinsent’s insight gets richer and richer as he gets closer to the present day.

Great Canadian actors don’t retire, as Pinsent points out (with Chris Plummer and Donald Sutherland as additional evidence). I’m so glad he keeps saying, “Yes, of course.”

Much Ado About Nothing

October 7, 2012

Other than reading on the page, my only experience with Much Ado is the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version, which made me a bit surprised, but still enraptured, with the…nervousness of Deborah Hay’s Beatrice. Hay and Ben Carlson were absolutely magical together as the quarreling, soon-to-be lovers, and at the end, the chemistry between the real-life couple was beautifully apparent.

Along with Hay and Carlson, Christopher Newton has come to Stratford from Shaw to direct, and I don’t know if I fancy myself an expert, but I thought one could tell from the look and feel of the play. It was a bit more stuffed-looking than the typical show at the Festival theatre (not even discounting last year’s Misanthrope!). A grand piano was tossed around the stage in almost every scene.

But the direction of the actors, and the acting, was superb. Juan Chioran and Gareth Potter were a regal and devious Don Pedro and Don John. Bethany Jillard was a very strong Hero, and Tyrone Savage made Claudio, someone I usually find too stupid for words, a bit smarter. But I suppose anyone looks dumb compared to Beatrice and Benedick.

Which made me more sad to recognize how much the play highlights the disenfranchisement of women, and perhaps this explains this Beatrice’s nervousness. When the crisis arises, even her wit can’t save her cousin. Claudio and Hero’s marriage, her shaming, and the eventual resolution are all matters worked out by the men, including the friar who comes up with a very familiar-sounding plot. Margaret is a tool to be used; Hero and Beatrice can only talk, and when it comes to something important, no one listens. Except Benedick, which makes them the most wonderful couple around.


September 23, 2012

It was exciting to see some new, Canadian work at the Festival, since we usually stick to the classics. I don’t know if time will make Wanderlust a classic, but it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

The Klondike has always been one of the phases of Canadian history most fascinating to me, and Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee” was key to my first interest. Wanderlust is a new musical by Morris Panych and Marek Norman based on the life (but more the poems) of Robert Service.

The production was gorgeous. The bank’s teller windows, opaque in normal light, revealed the orchestra behind them when the play began. Images of great ships, mountain vistas, and snow seemed sprung from Services’ imagination, especially in the setpieces for The Shooting of Dan McGrew and the Cremation. And the staff of the bank helped the vision along in ingeniously choreographed ways.

Everyone in the cast was strong but I was thrilled by Tom Rooney’s central performance. Anyone who can evoke such tragedy and such comedy, almost simultaneously, is a foundation for the theatre. The show closed with Rooney/Service alone at the bank, at his desk plastered with postcards of northern landscapes, in the light of a window as snow began to fall. A gorgeous summing-up.

In the past I’ve been struck by how the experience of theatre can take a play that’s dull on the page and make it magical. But there seems to be a theme to my Stratford times this year, and between Beatrice and Benedick, Robert Service, and Christopher Plummer’s favourites, it’s all about the magic of the language on the page.

A Word or Two

August 31, 2012

This was an experience to cherish, not to write about, and I thank Mom for sharing it with me.

Christopher Plummer’s one-man show was more personal than either of us had expected. It weaves his autobiography together with the literature that has shaped his life. Funny moments, poignant moments, from a pair of old boy’s skates and an escape into French to a meditation on death. His mother’s, and his.

Left with lots of new, old poems and stories to read.