“Abject Object”

Over the years I have seen nearly all Shakespeare’s plays. Thankfully Stratford Festival presents one of the infrequently produced ones every year or so. This year it is Henry VIII, which we saw at the intimate Studio Theatre. A play with the largest cast list done in the smallest theatre presented a challenge for director Martha Henry, which she met with ease.

This was a preview production but most of the performances were excellent. Irene Poole as Queen Katherine was strong, her death scene was compelling – cutting the appearance of the spirit apparitions allowed the scene even greater emotional resonance. Kim Horsman as Duchess of Norfolk was great fun. Jonathan Goad as Henry was boyish, regal and made the king so appealing one almost forgives his treatment of women. The supporting players were good, Scott Wentworth as the Duke of Norfolk was particularly strong.

Thanks to the series The Tudors I was able to sort out the political web that was being spun for Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn but I’m not sure how anyone unfamiliar with the actual history would have fared with the religious & political intrigues that run though the play. But the play is also an emotional look at the disintegration of a marriage regardless of the political context.

The staging was simple, the costumes were detailed, though there were more sequins than one would have expected at that time 🙂 The ending bows were cleverly  choreographed. Highly recommended.

 

My only quibble is with an audience member, in my row, two seats to my right who felt it was perfectly fine to use his smartphone to check messages & text replies two different times, while the show was in progress. I guess I should be grateful he didn’t start a whispered conversation on it. 

 

 

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“Brave Spirits Indeed”

I have seen several productions of The Tempest – some at Stratford, some on TV, at least one Shakespeare in the Park, plus a few film adaptations. The last one I saw starred Christopher Plumber at the Festival. So the play holds little surprise – the pleasure is in the telling.

My favorite Shakespeare character is in this play. Caliban, the true outsider. A creature with human foibles but abused and/or found repulsive by all humans. I’ve frequently found Ariel irritating as opposed to delightful.

Over all this is a solid production with some wonderful over-the-top moments in Act 2. Martha Henry is a fine Prospero – though I would have liked a bit more bitterness, as opposed to the simmering anger but it is good to see her take on the character. There is real chemistry between Mamie Zwettler and André Sills as the young lovers Miranda and Sebastian. 

André Morin as Ariel give a good performance – perhaps the tree bark costume grounded him as one of the earth spirits. An apt costume for a spirit freed from a tree. Michael Blake as Caliban, costumed with barnacles, clearly a sea spirit, is strong but comes across more pissed off than vengeful. As with Prospero I would have liked less amiability – they are too likable 🙂 

The rest of the cast gives nicely detailed performances & as always the reliable stalwarts Stephen Ouimette & Tom McCamus are fun as Trinculo & Stephano – there is always bring great comic chemistry between the two of them.

The colonizing subtext of the play has become more troubling over time – much like Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn it is becoming more politically charged & I wonder how soon it’ll be before The Tempest gets banned. But that’s another blog post. It is still a fun production & well worth seeing.

ps – Some of my focus was distracted repeatedly by a member of the audience who had no hesitation in taking out their cell phone to take pictures of the action on stage – I missed the moment of the entrance of the Harpy with the turning on of their camera screen to get some shots. When they started to do this yet again someone nearer to them leaned over to stop them. At least the photo taker didn’t start to share their pics on social media during the show. How considerate.

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

Julius Caesar: Honourable Women https://wp.me/p1RtxU-33T

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Entertainment Afoot

https://wp.me/p1RtxU-34I

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 

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“My rage is gone”

Thanks to director Robert Lepage the Stratford Festival’s production of Coriolanus is stunning from the first line of dialogue. The level of stage craft is constantly amazing as it supports & expands the plot. Considered one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays this re-imagining of it in modern times makes it perhaps one of his most prophetic plays. Imagine a ruler who feels offended when anyone questions his decisions.

The special effect projections (if that’s what they are called), sometimes as subtle as a curtain moving in the breeze or as dramatic as rain on a speeding car were executed with a precision I didn’t know was possible. The rain on the car, for example, was streaming across the car in the right direction & at the right speed as the car went faster. Oh yes, there was a real car on stage!

Scene transitions were smooth, the use of moving scrims, of moving sets, sliding frames had to have been done by the bank of laptop & desk top computers one saw on entering the theatre. All this tech did not detract from the emotional heart of the play but amplified its beat though news casts, talk-show, multi-view camera coverage &, of course, text & emojis.

The performances were excellent, as one would expect. Lucy Peacock as Mom stole every scene she was in; André Sills as our Hero was solid, energetic but rarely displayed the arrogance his character was credited with (or that one is used to seeing displayed by politicians); Festival stalwarts Tom McCamus, Stephen Ouimette, & Tom Rooney were sharp & clarly relished the characters they were playing. Graham Abbey as the opposing general was excellent & his closing lines “My rage is gone; And I am struck with sorrow” were emotionally delivered & resonant in a way that needed no stage craft. A must see production. 

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

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Love’s #sfLabours Lost

Finally got to Stratford for our first show of the year. Often I’ve seen shows as early as May but this year because of my busy June & the rotation of Festival matinee options it wasn’t until August that the stars aligned and off we went.

Lost is replete with disguise, mistaken identities, misdirected letters, men who can’t live without women and love at first sight – who needs a plot with all these theatrical tropes in action – the play nearly writes itself. Someone dies and the play ends with a song.

sky01

drama over the Shakespeare Pie Shop

It is ultimately a play about language period. Shakespeare displays his ability to capture different class levels of humour and word play from the common to the learned to the pious. Each voice is very distinct and each understandable. Understandable once you realize all the word play is ‘suggestive’ – the subtext is always ‘man wants woman’, or even more bluntly ‘men want sex’ & think they can talk their way into it – the male tongue being the power muscle.

sky02

drama over Stratford

The cast is invested, comfortable with the various uses of pun, meter and tease. Ruby Joy & Mike Shara are good but as is often the case the minor  characters steal the show: Brad Rudy as the nearly wordless Blunt, Josue Laboucane as the smart talking Costard, & Juan Chioran as language mangling Spaniard Don Adriano.

The production opens in my favourite way – stage lights up and actors walking on stage as if there is no audience, dialogue and then lights dim. I also love live music on stage & this production takes us from guitars to brass quartet easily without drowning out the moments.

sky03

Perth County sky drama from a moving car

I particularly enjoyed the competitive nature of the word play. What an idea – poets sprouting sonnets at each other to score accolades from each other – in other words a slam – all that was missing was judges holding up scores cards. There was a couple of toe-t- toe dissing passages as well – like a 30 second slam, as the chapters try to outdo each other with insults or sexual innuendo. Stichomythia goes back to Greek drama so hip-hop battles have a real history.

The last act gets crammed with what were clearly audience pleaser moments – the Muscovites – the Nine Worthies – which to me drained away some of the energy of the production itself. A great show that I’d recommend if you aren’t into slam 🙂

samples

hand

 

shall I compare thee to a hand

severed from a corpse

an unidentified left hand

isolated insulated in ice

not yet murky with drifting pinks

lit from below by a cool blue

as blue as your eyes

when you concede

that even though you are right

you will never get your way

so this wild wound

will howl at the afternoon sun

fearful of losing its shadow

in the comfort of my affection

 

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sky04

chasing the rainbow

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

 

Suing Stephen King

I like long walks in the morning, usually heading around 9:30 – walk for about an hour at least. I have several directions I go in with some small variations day to day – some days north and west, others north & east, other south and either east or west. All the pictures I post are taken on these walks. Funny how, one day, for the first time in months, I’ll a door against a telephone pole and then the following weeks I see cast off doors every where.

Taxi!!
Taxi!!

Most days I listen to podcasts – the three I’ve stuck to are: The Round Table, Disinfo, and Writing Excuses. All three have extensive archives on iTunes. The hosts are enthusiastic, informed and fun. Whether hunting for literary gold, figuring how to write yourself out of (or into) a corner or digging for truth in the USA these podcasts are ideal & inspiring.

ski don'ts
ski don’ts

I also think when walking – sometimes things like ‘I’d do him,’ or ‘Ditch the bitch, I’m the one you need.’ Often: ‘Why stop with your pram at the narrowest point, between the patio and planter, to have a conversation with your pram pushing pals?’ Or working out what to say about a spoken-word show or a poem or short story in my head. Current story idea that came to me on a walk is someone time travel technology to prove Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.

used, abused & cast off by Chucky
used, abused & cast off by Chucky

Someone asked me why I don’t feature that often and my reply was why don’t you ask the hosts why they don’t ask me more often.

writing sample
writing sample

this piece was fished out of my archive – from January 2009 –

do you think I have grounds to sue Stephen King

The Window

there was only the window

no room

only the view out

no view in

nothing to see in

nothing to see out

but the window

drew all eyes to the nothing outside

drew all eyes so none cared

that there was nothing inside to see

nothing to keep us there

only the need to look

to see

to be visually stimulated

all look

nothing to touch

nothing to see

but we kept looking

hoping something would appear

something would drift across

the endless expanse outside the window

what we needed

had to be out there

waiting   longing to be seen

to be discovered

by these eager greedy eyes

that no longer could look inward

that void was pitiless endless hopeless

while the window offered a change

a respite from that

soon it would appear t

he alarming glass shattering sight

would appear

our senses would be gratified

the window felt like nothing

the glass was a surface we couldn’t penetrate

it didn’t give when pressed

didn’t smear when touched

steady unblinking window

open to the world outside us

open to potential

resistant to all attempts to smash it

nothing could break

its wavering openness

the surface wouldn’t ripple shudder quiver

bombs flames indifference

nothing had an effect on it

nothing made it more or less open than it was

even worship didn’t speed

the realization of hopes

it remained open even when

we closed our eyes

when we slept it remained

dreams couldn’t penetrate to the other side

there was no room

there was just this window

between us and the world

couldn’t tell if it was glass air solidified

it cast no reflection

had no taste texture sound

all that passed through it was

light

eyes strained painful red rimmed eyes

seeking sight seeking a sign

any sign

a heron flying in a dim morning light

anything but the expanse remained

unaltered

all these years

soon something would appear soon

and we would be there faces

pressed

ready at last for the first sight of something

outside of ourselves

clearly too gay for the Russian Olympics
clearly too gay for the Russian Olympics

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‘Beauty hath made me effeminate’

Our first Stratford day trip was to see R&J. I can’t recall the last time I saw a live production. I like a lot of things about this production – stripped down of what has become Stratford’s re-imaginings to freshen things up – no floating masked ball dancers, no setting it in war torn Africa- it was bare bones production in fine Elizabethan costumes. This was a preview performance and as such it was clear where the production needs lots of work.

knock knock
knock knock

Clever opening with Capulet guys giving the audience the run down – please no electronic devices, etc. – then Montague guys coming out to do the same thing & the first sword play results. The fight choreography was excellent & there was a fair bit of it. The courtly dance moments were great.

It was clear that the “old hands’ (Tom McCamus, Scott Wentworth) are more comfortable with the meter and rhyme of the text. The first act pacing needs to be tightened up. The two most compelling characters (Mercutio, Tybalt) are dead by the end of act one. The second act opened with the cast beautifully singing a Latin madrigal – a fitting hymn for the deaths of Mercutio, and Tybalt. The pacing was good and performances, for the most part, were better.

who's there
who’s there

Sara Topham as Juliet was excellent. I found Daniel Briere as Romeo a bit of a snooze – more perplexed than agonized, more infatuated than enraptured – for someone who causes the deaths of five people (spoiler alert: including himself) I would had expected more stage presence even in a preview.

One benefit of this pared down presentation is that the language was paramount. I’ve seen Romeo as a young man caught up in trying to do the right thing and falling in love in the process. But when he says ‘O sweet Juliet, Thy beauty hath made me effeminate.’ – I realized he was a young man looking for someone to blame – in this case Juliet – for his actions.

mind the step
mind the step

The final bows turned into a ‘lord of the dance’ opportunity for the cast to kick up their period heels – this lively jig dispelled, for me, any sense of the tragic ending.

Overall a solid, if uninspiring, preview production that should be called Juliet and Romeo.

the mists of cape breton