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.


This was only going to be a review of the Stratford Festival’s amazing production, now on DVD, of Twelfth Night.  I didn’t see it live; chose two other fantastic productions instead. But now, even though they were great, I’m kicking myself for not seeing Des McAnuff’s comedy in person.

The word to describe it is joyful. Not without the touch of melancholy that always gives a Shakespearean production greater depth, especially thanks to Tom Rooney’s Malvolio. But sheer joy in the language, the comedy, the romance, the music!

It might be because I’m such a huge fan, and have been since his Shaw Festival days, but a lot of this joy radiates from Ben Carlson’s cranky but accommodating Feste.  The interplay between Feste, Maria, and Brian Dennehy’s Sir Toby Belch and Stephen Ouimette’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is fantastic.

Twelfth Night is full of music, the food of love!  And McAnuff added even more, including a song based on Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd” and Raleigh’s “Nymph’s Reply”.  Even with all the beautiful music (a showstopping “Come Away, Death”, performed by Carlson alone), the most fun was Carlson, Dennehy and Ouimette turning “Hold Thy Peace” into a 50s rock song. Just thinking about the song and the scene puts a smile on my face.

Which brings me to what this post turned into: thoughts on the beauty of theatre and the important times my family’s had, thanks to Stratford.

We’d been before now and again, but my mother made a point of taking us in 2002, to see Christopher Plummer as King Lear. It was a breathtaking, heart-rending, production, and we made a beautiful day of it, picnicking along the river and spending time as a family. When we got home, we got the message that my mother’s sister had passed away; and for me, admittedly a niece rather than a sister, the grief we saw enacted on the stage that day, in retrospect, reflected our own.

Since then we’ve gone at least yearly, and usually a few times a year. I’ve shared trips with my whole family, my whole family and some friends, just my husband, just my brother, and last year, I got to take a friend to her very first play (she’s a concert goer, not a playgoer, but I think she’s convinced!). There have been a couple years where we’ve dealt with the rain, but usually it’s a gorgeous summer or fall day, offering time to spend with loved ones, and time to ponder the magic the Festival shares with all of us.

My mother-in-law, whom we lost in 2010, was a lover of musical theatre. My husband and I got to take our moms to a few productions, and so whenever I see a fantastic play like Twelfth Night, I wish I could share it with her. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, and it gives me opportunity to think of her, and have that joyful feeling. In a couple weeks I’m having that first-time theatre-goer friend over, and we’ll watch the play and share in the fun.

I am so thankful for all these moments.

This Rough Magic

August 8, 2010

We saw the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Tempest this past weekend, and, as always, it was beautiful and thought-provoking.

I think what struck me most was that, for a play that is often made to be “about” something (a farewell from Shakespeare, colonialism, etc. etc.), this production didn’t make itself about anything other than a damn good production of The Tempest.  Ariel and Caliban were both magical and terrible. Gareth Potter was Ferdinand, and a fine change from the common shortcomings of the Festival’s young men. In his 7th season, I’d hope he’d be!

William Hutt told a story about his first year at the festival, when he got on stage, thought he’d be Shakespearean, and proceeded to bellow every line. Tony Guthrie, he said, took him aside and said, “You’re too loud, too loud, too loud.” The difference between the experienced and inexperienced actors, to me, always comes out in such things. When Christopher Plummer speaks, it’s as though Prospero is saying those things just as he thinks them. Miranda was especially loud and Hutt-Shakespearean in her first scenes, but Plummer was a calming influence on her as they continued together. It was a lovely thing to see.

And then, Plummer did a book signing. Mom and I have had his book since it came out, and I thought about bringing it along, but then didn’t think there would be an opportunity (some grade 9 classmates and I once waited outside the stage door for Jonathan Crombie–Gilbert Blythe–till someone came and got us and told us our bus was leaving…Crombie-less). So without having brought or bought a book I had to wait till the end of the line. He was still gracious enough to sign a program for both my mother and I. I would have explained the situation but they were moving quickly and I thought I’d tell him how much we’ve appreciated his work, and for how long, rather than saying, “I promise I have a copy at home!”