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, inĀ 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.



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 Public Tragedy

August 2, 2009

A very good production, one of the best plays, and one of the worst audiences I’ve ever been in.

But even two phones ringing, people flashing lights, and lots of coughs and people coming and going couldn’t distract from Shakespeare’s excellent public tragedy, Julius Caesar.

A tragedy about the downfall of ambition and the horrors of the mob. But one that depends on personal relationships: Caesar and Calpurnia, Caesar and Brutus, Brutus and Portia (a strong character and strong actor, robbed by how few scenes she’s in and by the phone ringing throughout the main one), Brutus and Cassius.

And what a Brutus and Cassius! Ben Carlson and Tom Rooney (last year’s Hamlet and Horatio) broke my heart each time they spoke. Noble and troubled, lean and hungry. “You have done that you should be sorry for!”

The production was quite good, largely on the strength of the performances. It does seem, to a slight extent, that this year’s productions have traded emotional impact for visual impact; but very good nonetheless.