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Shakespeare & Company
by Thomas Dooney
The start of the Stratford Festival in 1953 may have seemed like folly to some. Shakespeare? In a dusty, post-industrial town in the middle of nowhere? But once the decision was made, they did things right from the first step. That first summer year, two productions were staged under an enormous tent. A traditional Richard III and modern-dress All’s Well That Ends Well starred Alec Guinness and Irene Worth under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie and supported by the design of Tanya Moiseiwitsch, an incomparable constellation for a first-year venture.
The three-hour drive from Buffalo to Stratford, Ontario, may seem daunting. If you plan, you can have breakfast in Buffalo, lunch in Stratford, catch a matinee and be home before nightfall. And, yes, you can do it around the Stanley Cup playoffs. Which will give you something to talk about during intermission with the Canadians.
You will come to Stratford for the Shakespeare and then also delight in a broad selection of other musicals, comedies and drama. In the broad category of “other,” you will often find titles that recently performed here in Buffalo, or that will open in the coming season. Maybe you’ll want to exercise a comparative, critical eye, or you can explore new dramatic terrain. The festival is dedicated to presenting works by Canadian dramatists as well as shows that represent the faces of Canada’s contemporary society by way of an outstanding repertory, providing you shows not likely to be seen in the US. No way to make a wrong choice.
If you find one day of theatergoing is not enough, Stratford is very welcoming of the weekend or midweek visitor. In addition to the four theaters, there are galleries to visit, parks to wander, shops to browse, restaurants, pubs and a range of other sites. And, remarkably, you can almost bet on running into someone from Buffalo at the festival…that’s the kind of city we live in and the place that Stratford is.
King Lear: Brian Bedford, well known from his film and television appearances as well as stage work around the world, is a Stratford regular. He directs and stars as the royal who does much wrong to his daughters and then has much wrong done to him in return. With Bedford in this role, you can anticipate an aloof, regal start and an articulate, emotionally apocalyptic downfall.
Oklahoma!: Had Rodgers and Hammerstein been Canadians, this show might have been titled Saskatchewan! or Manitoba! after one of the prairie provinces. It might not have the same ring when set to music, but the inner spirit of this musical defies time and location and its attraction is eternal. The vast Festival stage is just right to accommodate lively square dances and dream ballets.
The Merchant of Venice: One of Canada’s leading actors, Graeme Greene, stars as Shylock in this story of an optimistic, youthful investment that comes due and payable to older, pragmatic hands. Greene is best known to film audiences as the chief who adopts hapless Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves.
An Ideal Husband: It is easy to appreciate the character of Lord Goring as a stand-in for his creator, Oscar Wilde. In the social whirl around him, he observes everything from affairs of the heart to affairs of state, offering brilliant commentary on all subjects in between. There is a spoonful of Shavian medicine in this play but a flask of Wilde washes it down. This production features Dixie Seattle as the beguiling Mrs. Chevely.
To Kill a Mockingbird: It is surprising the number of people who consider the Harper Lee novel or the Gregory Peck film to be their favorite. This script hews closer to Lee’s original as a small Alabama town responds to a black man accused of raping a white woman, and the white attorney who defends him. This show stars Buffalo’s Barbara Barnes-Hopkins under the direction of Susan Schulman.
My One and Only: Start with a batch of songs of by George and Ira Gershwin from the 1920s and 1930s. Bind them together with inspired dance numbers from the imagination of the show’s creators Thommie Walsh and Tommy Tune. Graced with an elegant Stratford production and this promises to be a stylish evening at the Avon, a jewel-box theater from the turn of the century.
The Comedy of Errors: Shakespeare based his script on one from the ancient theater. So what did the noble Romans and the cultured Elizabethans both find funny? Identical twins separated at birth (not one set but two), mistaken identities thereto, one wife who is alluring, another who is terrifying, slapstick violence and a bunch of stuff you can find in this week’s TV Guide make this Shakespeare’s most accessible comedy.
TOM PATTERSON THEATRE
Othello: Othello and The Merchant of Venice in one season is kind of remarkable, providing two perspectives on centuries-old biases (racism in one, anti-Semitism in the other). The arena set-up of the Patterson stage makes the audience intimate witnesses to passion, jealousy, betrayal and revenge.
Of Mice and Men: Graeme Greene plays Lenny the affectionate, homeless brute who wanders California with the sharp-witted but luckless George, looking for work. A touching depiction of hard times and friendship.
A Delicate Balance: Depending on your tolerance for domestic turmoil, it might be interesting to double-bill this play with King Lear. Albee’s upper-middle-class WASPs never take up swords or call out the dogs as do Shakespeare’ characters, but they manage a fair amount of intra-familial damage armed with cocktails and an accordion.
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead: Festival favorite Lucy Peacock remounts last year’s tour de force in which she plays the three women of the title and a retinue of other characters in a comic account of a wife’s suspicion about her husband’s misdoings.
Shakespeare’s Will: A solo show depicts Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s long-suffering wife, on the night before her husband’s death. She reviews his will, contemplates how he has distributed his earthly goods and reflects upon marriage and legacy.
The Odyssey: Nobel-winning author from Trinidad Derek Walcott retells Homer’s epic about the desire for adventure and the need to return home, resetting it from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. Here is another opportunity to see Buffalo ex-pat Barbara Barnes-Hopkins.
Pentecost: Unearthed in a church after many years, the discovery of a painting has politically charged ramifications. The debate centers on more than ownership of the picture, but also who in society deserves art.
For tickets and information: www.stratfordfestival.ca or 1-800-567-1600. Next week: AV’s guide to the Chautauqua Institute’s 2007 theater season.
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