A Meditation on Virginity

I very much enjoyed the Stratford Festival production of All’s Well That Ends Well at the Tom Patterson Theatre under the direction of Scott Wentworth. Curiously it was the third production we saw at the Festival this year that begins with a grave (Richard III & Hamlet) – a subtext?

In All’s Well it is the grave of Helen’s (Jessica B. Hill) father who has left her in the care of Countess of Rossillion (Seana McKenna). The Countess sees Helen as her own daughter to such a degree that she insists Helen call her mother – which might explain why her son Bertram (Jordin Hall) is repulsed at the thought of marrying his sister. The main plot of the play is how Helen manipulates Bertram into consummating & accepting their marriage.

The cast handles Shakespeare’s witty dialogue very well. The scenes between Seana & her sexton, André Sills crackle with playful energy & subtle sexual tension. It is their ‘relationship’ that, for me, holds the play together. In fact all of André’s scenes were great fun as he gave the sexton a real sexual magnetism that was a pointed contrast to Jordin’s nearly total lack of sexual energy – what did Helen find so appealing about him? I did feel a little sympathy for him as he surrendered to Helen’s manipulations. 

There was also great crackle in Parolles (Rylan Wilkie) meditation-on-virginity scenes with Helen & his exchanges with Lafew (Wayne Best). Parolles is this play’s Mavolio. A man who sees himself in a different light than anyone else sees him. Rylan plays him well & Parolles’ comeuppance is perhaps the play’s most comic scene. Even in defeat his ‘redemption’ shows him unbowed.

The staging was simple, effective & the cast rolled pedestals, beds & baggage trollies on & off stage without disrupting the flow of the play. I particularly loved the military costumes with their gaudy epaulets, elaborate strings of gold & rows of shiny medals. Of course Parolles’ uniform had the most fringe. Smoke billowing out of suitcases was a fun dramatic visual. Highly recommended.

reviews of shows I’ve seen this past season:

Richard III

Dull In Denmark 

The Mister 

Rocky Horror 

Hey! You can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & see more shows
sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Richard III

 

They wouldn’t let me try it on 😦

We were eager to this Festival production of Richard III at the new Tom Patterson Theatre. A fitting choice as Richard was one of the productions featured in the first season of Stratford in 1953. It starred Alec Guinness as Richard. I thoroughly enjoyed the preview production of Ricard iii I saw earlier this week. All I know of Richard is the myth that Shakespeare’s play solidified. A myth that centres around the death of the princes in the tower. From the play one gets the idea that the years of his reign were spent solely in conflict about his right to rule while denying any knowledge off what happed to the princes.

Director Antoni Cimolino has given this  production has an amazing opening scene that gives Richard a stunning entrance. Inventive & intuitive it took my breath away. You’ll have to see it for yourself as I’m not giving it away here. Unfortunately his first monologue ‘Now is the winter’ was marred by a cell phone ringing :-(. 

I wonder that this isn’t considered one of  Shakespeare’s problem plays with the endless assortment of characters – so many one really needs a cheat sheet app to keep track of who is whose sister, wife, window, mother, grandmother, which lord is on which side. At least in this production the women were dressed differently enough one could tell them apart, but the lords & underlings wore such similarly styled & dull colour clothes & hair they were interchangeable. 

Colm Feore is excellent as the sly, manipulative Richard; André Sills is a formidable Buckingham (how long before he does Falstaff?). Lucy Peacock as Elizabeth steals every scene she is in, even with Feore. Her scene with Seana McKenna (Margaret),

 Diana Leblanc (Duchess of something) is a stand out as each truest out-do the other in their hatred of Richard. Another great scene was Richard’s ‘seduction’ of Lady Anne (Jessica B. Hill) was a fine example of gaslighting & victim-blaming ‘it’s your fault I killed your husband – you are so beautiful I had no choice’ 

The finale was puzzling as the cast morphed into modern dress for a funeral. I’m not sure who the funeral was for: Richard? A dynamic production I’d recommend to anyone, even more so to anyone who knows the historical context & can tell a mother from a daughter.

I did try this one on
Hey! You can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee
sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Honourable Women

Where to start with this so-so Stratford Festival production of Julius Caesar? This early play, not regarded as one of Shakespeare’s better pieces, isn’t improved any by the casting of women in the lead roles. I was hoping there would be some layered resonance on the current discussion about gender & representation but if there is it was under too many layers. An arrogant & ambitious ruler meets a bad end. Assassins pay the price of their actions. 

Seana McKenna does not portray Caesar as being particularly arrogant or ambitious. She handles the role well but seems merely content to give the lines a well enunciated delivery. Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony invests the character with urgency & emotional connection. She handles the slyly manipulative “lend me your ears” speech very well. Now this a character with ambitions. Also good was Jonathan Goad as Marcus Brutus. 

Director Scott Wentworth does able work with the ‘rabble’ crowd scenes so they have good energy & theatricality – I really enjoy the opening of Act 2 with the rabble scattered throughout the theatre. Slow motion battle scenes & Gregorian chant didn’t work for me. I did like the hand washing nod to McBeth though.

When men play women, cross-dressing or doing drag, they are judged by how well they pass as women, so it is fair to do the same for when women play men. Seana is the most successful on surface appearance, Michelle is okay, Irene Poole as Cassius could pass as a teenage boy not as an adult male. Other women cast as men in the production are more androgynous than masculine. 

 

I was happy to see Julius Caesar and this is a solid production. I also appreciated the casting of women in men’s roles – this sort of gender play, only reversed, was the law in Shakespeare’s time. Maybe it’s time for a really tradition production where men play all the roles. Scott Wentworth would make a brilliant Lady McBeth.

PS: No one says: “Great Caesar’s ghost.” Also, I could not get that classic Canadian comedy moment “Julie, don’t go!  Julie, don’t go!  But he wouldn’t listen!” out of my mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR_5h8CzRcI

Other summer reviews:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night: “a ghost haunting the past” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-30f 

Coriolanus: “My rage is gone” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31K 

The King and I: The King and My Memories https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31Y 

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

“a ghost haunting the past”

Our first of this year’s Stratford productions was Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Studio Theatre. I don’t know what this reveals about either my sense of humour or about my attachment to trivia but when my partner asks where something misplaced might be I have been known to reply ‘have you looked in the box beside the wedding dress’ – which he knows is a reference to Long Day’s. 

I have seen at least two versions of Long Days on film – one, I think was a TV version starting Olivier – the other was Hepburn with her hands grasping at nothing in the air and muttering about her wedding dress. All very tragic, melodramatic & talky. But Long Day’s is a surprising contemporary play: addict mother living in blame & shame; alcoholic father living in regret for lost glory; alcoholic son following his Dad’s career footsteps & failing; another drunken son who tried to break free now dying of consumption. All caught in a string quartet of blame, shame, denial & retreating to the past. A few tweaks & this could be today.

I throughly enjoyed this production. The performers played well off each other, though Seana McKenna as the mother held our attention whenever she was on stage, & even when she wasn’t. When she wasn’t I longed for her to be there as the others never felt as invested in their roles as Seana did.

The staging was effective in the intimate space of the Studio Theatre. We had seats in row B so it felt like we were sitting in the room itself. The fog horn was resonant & at times underscored the emotional flow with it’s inevitability & a sense that the family’s emotional fog would always come rolling in.

Although I enjoyed the show I did not find it entertaining. The production was more a museum piece than one that offered us anything fresh in its presentation. The Festival, which has been reimagining classic pieces in ways which challenge audiences, offers no challenge in this production.

#sfphysicists

The Physicists is a ‘comedy’ of ideologies as opposed to one of clever word play or physical pratfalls. Originally produced in 1962, the cold war sensibility remains strong, so strong that the attempts to update it with references to nano-technology seemed forced.

snow1001.1

making tracks at 1001 Queen W

I enjoyed the levels of distrust, of identity & systems of control. Three men pretending to be someone they are not, two of them, in fact, pretending to be someone pretending to be someone they are not – all, naturally, confined to an asylum. One of them says something to the effect that this is the one place he is safe to be who he is.

snow10012

making more tracks at 1001 Queen W

Murders happen, levels of identity are revealed, power changes hands with each line of dialogue at some points. In the end it turns out that the power rests not in spiritual values, political ideology but in the hands of the corporation – in this case – she who has the most money has the final say.

bluebrain

tracks made at 1001 Queen W during a brain rental

The ensemble cast is tight, they play off each other well, handle the science talk with ease and even sound as if they understand the theories. It was great to see Seana McKenna in a role where she wasn’t a suffering mother, queen or lover. Given a Anna Wintoresque look she made being Fraulein Doctor chic. Wayne Best as the raincoat clad detective was excellent, not that the the others weren’t, but his murder-weary text was rich and funny. I also appreciated the lack of comic book accents. German Swiss names were given exact pronunciation, but the rest of the dialogue was not. If you are looking for a blackly satiric play about political & scientific ideology this is for you.

Check out my review of Love’s Labours Lost: http://wp.me/p1RtxU-1ik.

sample

becoming touch

gradually

I am becoming

less visual

less visionary

flesh

replaces fantasy

images

become physical facts

frustrations

find expression

in actual indulgence

I want to touch

I touch

without first

testing imagination

touch adds

new fuel to the fire

soon

November 1 – 30 Participating NaNoWriMo

nano02

http://nanowrimo.org/

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

thanks

Mother Courage

Back to Stratford earlier this week to see Mother Courage and her Children. I’ve seen this various production of this play over the years and was looking forward to what vision Martha Henry brought to it. Working within Brecht’s ‘deconstruction’ of theatrical artifice can produce wonderful results.

children run kids, war is coming

Mother Courage is, as you know, an allegorical figure blah blah blah – who cares, right? Regardless of the intellectual construct the play has to entertain as much as it seeks to educate. Sadly I found this more on the educational side of things.

The production is stolid, deliberate and staid. Nothing fresh has been brought to it. It’s not as if, like, say Waiting For Godot, in which every stage direction must be followed from costume to gender of cast.

redhat who needs hats in war

A few years ago MacB was set in worn torn Africa & borught something new to the text in doing so. This production is pedestrian in staging, from costumes to lighting. The songs are fine, well-sung and were the best part of the show.

The cast is excellent – Seanna McKenna brings some energy to Mother but never really connects. I know Brecht didn’t want the audience from getting caught up emotionally but there is a difference, to me, between his temporal distance and performers disinterest in their characters.

toys the war on toys

Past productions I’ve seen may have not had the high caliber of Stratford but they had more energy and faster flow. They left me satisfied. This one was like taking your medicine.

soon02

October 19 – feature – Cabaret Noir – Pinebow

pinebow

 https://www.facebook.com/events/1651892755035275/

samples

Say It

 

often it seems all they have to say

is that they live to have something to say

that the word is what keeps the alive

keeps them going

that the opportunity to share the word

is a struggle worth fighting for

that this is the revolution

that the chance to be heard is innate primal

that they’d fight to the death

for the chance to say their piece

which is about

how much they need to fight to say their words

 

I wait for them to get beyond this point

they have an audience here

who wants to hear them

who needs to hear more

than how important this is

how hard it is to struggle

to say what has to be said

isn’t there more to be said

than how hard hard the struggle is

to say what they have to say

 

what the fuck do you have say

get to the point

stop dancing around gasping for air

look for something fresh to spout

instead of falling back

on the easy outs

of how pure your love for some lady is

how there are starving children

struggling to say what they got to say

maybe what they want to say is feed us

yeah we love you to give us the word

but that word doesn’t fill our stomach

doesn’t put a roof over our head

doesn’t stop the abuse by people

who shout us down

like you shout us down

with their need to be heard

newpine

 

King John

King John is one of Shakespeare’s rarely performed history plays. I was happy to see it for the first time as it is one of the plays that is possible to see for the first time. Some of them are so familiar one doesn’t have to see them to know what they are about – i.e. Hamlet.

greek

The production, at the Patterson Theatre, was unadorned. Chandeliers were the only constant stage setting – a few chairs brought on & off as needed. Costumes defined characters well & the Stratford costume and wig departments never disappoint.

I found the pacing of the first half a little uneven, the second was better. Performances, over-all, were good. Perhaps hitting end lines, rhymes a bit too hard. A few voices lacked projection though they could be heard. I wanted more out of Pat Collins in her exchanges with Seana McKenna.

pop

Tom McCamus, in the title roll, invested John with a clearly quirky & slightly comic personality but I never felt he was connected to the character. At one point struggling as much with his billowing cape, footwork as he did with his character.

dot

I enjoyed Seana as Constance, the grieving mother – her pain was clear and her political aims paled, even to her, as it became clear the cost that would be paid by her son. Also good was Graham Abbey, as Philip. Playful, brave and emotional by turns with an energetic and well thought out performance. Plus he managed to look fetching in bulky breeches.

Plot: betrayals, greeds, even a bit of love – the events carry the subtext which is – everything is a commodity – from morals, faith and in particular loyalty. Highly recommended.

samples

 

Surrender To The Light

 

the performer is never just

a member of the audience

maybe a face in the crowd

always aware

that  even when not performing

there a gap between doing and witnessing

the performer in the audience

thinks how would I do that

thinks they aren’t appreciative enough

thinks good lighting

nice intonation

rarely thinks what does this piece say to me

 

this inability to be audience

becomes even acuter

when the performer

knows they have to make an entrance

leave their seat go on the stage

take a place

deliver

for five   twenty minutes

whatever

until that point

the listening mind

isn’t really hearing

what the others do

can’t relax

be just an audience member

a mere adulator

sometimes

can’t even remember

afterwards

their own performance

losing all sense of memory

in that surrender to the light

superman o superman