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Home :: Archive :: 1991 :: August ::
1991 Stratford (Ontario) Festival
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 196. Saturday, 17 Aug 1991.
 
Dear Fellow SHAKSPEReans;
 
For those of you "hitching up your wagon" (as Steve puts
it) for Stratford Ontario, I'd highly recommend *Much Ado
About Nothing* and Moliere's *School for Wives*, in
addition to *Timon*.  Perhaps if you can stay for a
weekend, you can see all three.
 
*MAAN* stars Nicholas Pennell as Leonato, Goldie Semple
as Beatrice, and Colm Feore as Benedick -- and needless
to say, Semple and Feore steal the show.  Their repartee
is beautifully paced, and the play comes off wonderfully
as a result.  A spectacularly ornate setting, some
exhilarating fencing scenes, extravagant costumes, and a
banquet you may recognize from the 1989 *Shoemaker's
Holiday* (tall jelly molds, giant stuffed boars, stacks
of wineglasses, etc.) results in a play every bit as
visually entrancing as this year's musical, *Carousel*,
but far more fun.  Pennell (Leonato) is hilarious in 2.3,
as he stumbles blindly through the gulling of Benedick,
and after the intermission, from 3.3 on, Brian Bedford
maintains the comedy as Dogberry. With this many talented
actors (and of course a pretty good scriptwriter), *MAAN*
couldn't miss, of course.  Purists may be offended by the
inclusion of a dumbshow balcony scene before Claudio
declares his intention to shame Hero, but Margaret's
seductive strip-tease on the balcony certainly justifies
his jealousy and outrage -- although justification is one
thing Shakespeare deliberately fails to provide.  (I
believe the inclusion of this scene in dumb-show is a
Stratford Festival tradition, although perhaps others
know better than I).
 
As Steve mentioned, *Twelfth Night* is distinctly
disappointing this year.  Albert Millaire's somewhat too-
puritan Malvolio, Anne Wright's Viola, and Roberta
Maxwell's Maria are played very well, but their efforts
are overwhelmed by what appears to be weak direction (by
Bernard Hopkins, who mercilessly destroyed *Love's
Labour's Lost* in 1989) and an effeminate albino
Aguecheek who is overplayed for laughs by Rod Menzies
(distinctly reminiscent of Chris Heyerdahl's Armado in
1989's LLL, I regret to report!).  Strangely, Douglas
Chamberlain's Feste (I saw only his understudy, Cavan
Young, unfortunately) seems to be serious, calm, and
distinctly UNfunny.  Without a box-tree, the gulling of
Malvolio (2.5) becomes a farce in which eavesdroppers
dash back and forth across the stage, from exit to exit.
Many many actors' interpolations and deliberate
misreadings (like "greatness thrown UP on them...")
distract one from Shakespeare's script and mar his
intentions.
 
I concur that David Williams' *Hamlet* is a little flat,
despite Edward Atienza's amusing portrayal of Polonius
and Colm Feore's usual talents, but unfortunately still
worse is *The Knight of the Burning Pestle*, which wasn't
playing when Steve was at Stratford.  Apparently Bernard
Hopkins has remounted his 1990 production, although
(perhaps significantly) none of the original cast has
remained.  Eric Donkin and Susan Wright steal the show as
modern-dress citizens who meddle with the on-stage
action, and incidentally provided some impromptu
entertainment in the stands at intermission, too.
(Wright looked like she had walked right out of *Les
Belles Soeurs*).  The production admirably attempts to
capture the metatheatricality of the piece, opening with
actors in the green room in modern dress, but allusions
to the current Stratford season (including lines from
*Hamlet*, *12N*, and *MAAN*), as well as to "The Price is
Right," Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and
even the theme from "Star Trek," were a little too much
contemporaneity for my taste.  (Perhaps worst of all was
the line, "Maketh my day!"; and best was Michael's
(Michael Halberstam) outrage at the citizens'
interference: "We'd never put up with this in Timon of
Athens!")  Likewise it seemed unnecessary and even
painful to replace Rafe's dwarf with a ventriloquist's
dummy, operated for laughs (what else?) by Rafe's squire,
and disappointing that the final Renaissance air turned
into disco and then rap music!
 
Stratford seems to have surprisingly little Shakespeare
this year, and it's fortunate that in addition to *12N*
and *Hamlet* the festival has *MAAN* and *Timon*, by
talented directors and wonderful actors.  This year also
has superb productions of a number of non-Shakespearean
pieces, including Moliere's *School for Wives* and Michel
Tremblay's *Les Belles Soeurs*, which I would also highly
recommend to any SHAKSPEReans passing through Stratford.
*School for Wives*, in a wonderfully funny verse
translation by Richard Wilbur, is unquestionably among
the best plays this season at Stratford.  Richard
Monette's production is blessed by both Brian Bedford
(Arnolphe) and Colm Feore (Horace), who perform
flawlessly and make for an amusing and moving play.
Marti Maraden directs *Les Belles Soeurs*, starring Susan
Wright, Anne Wright, Janet Wright, Barbara Bryne, Pat
Galloway, Ann Baggley, Kate Reid, and Goldie Semple --
and with a line-up like that, how can the production be
less than wonderful?
 
 
I haven't yet seen Pirandello's *The Rules of the Game*,
Ibsen's *An Enemy of the People*, or A.R. Gurney's *Love
Letters*, but there is no doubt that the biggest flop of
the season is David Williams' production of Elliott
Hayes' adaptation of R.L.S.'s *Treasure Island*.  This
seafaring novel simply isn't stageworthy, and from the
opening scenes it is clear that the performance is taking
on water fast.  The story is pushed forward by gunfights
and barroom brawls, not by language or drama, and
entertainment for children hardly seems appropriate at
Stratford, where tickets average $40 each.
 
So, if you can afford to see the best of Stratford, I'd
recommend *MAAN*, *Timon*, *School for Wives*, and *Les
Belles Soeurs*, in that order.  If you must, see *Hamlet*
and *12N*, and perhaps even *Pestle*, but don't say we
didn't warn you...
 
					Ken Steele
					University of Toronto
 

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