Stratford – Canada’s Go to Theatre Experience – The Festival Stage

9 Plays in 5 days – really? Am I nuts? I guess the answer must be the obvious yes – but somehow it didn’t seem nuts to plan one trip to Stratford – and while there see as many plays as I possibly could.

And probably it’s only at Stratford, the repertory theatre par excellence of Canada, that one can squeeze in that many plays without worrying about conflicts and travel times. All the 4 venues are within easy walking distance of each other, and all performances start at 2:00 or 8:00. Since much of the staff performs in multiple plays – they need time to get to the next gig – just like the audience does.

I’m not going to review all 9 plays in one super blog – My plan is to break up the plays by Theatre – starting with the Grande Dame – The Festival Stage. It’s huge, it’s famous, the acoustic are awesome, the staging reliably stunning, and of course the acting is superb. So picking winners is a bit like choosing between grand-kids. You kinda love them all! But that said – here goes nothing.

My favorites of the 3 we saw on the main ‘Festival’ stage was a toss-up between the absolutely brilliant Fiddler on the Roof – excellent in its ability to convey the conflicts, the joys, the troubles of the fiddler in top-notch fashion. Great singers, solid convincing acting, a lovely set that was inspired by the art of Marc Chagall combine to get and keep the audience enthralled. No wonder good seats are hard to get. This is a production worth seeing.

My second favorite – and it was a close call thing – was the outstanding production of the Merchant of Venice. The actor playing Shylock also plays Tevye – which quickly tells you a lot about his range and capabilities. He was quite literally mind-blowing in both roles, in such hugely different ways. For those who don’t know – and apparently some of these people were in the audience – the Merchant is one of Shakespeare’s toughest plays. Today no one likes to watch people callously making fun and then physically and verbally degrading another person – regardless of why that person is ‘different’. And at the end of the highly dramatic and very emotional court scene – Shylock lies degraded and abused on the very front of the stage. It is a highly charged moment – made more so by an audience member who choose that point to stand up – throw his program to the ground and state clearly enough so everyone could hear – “This is the most antisemitic thing I’ve ever seen”.

True – and my husband argued afterwards that the director had perhaps taken the text a bit too far by placing the play in Fascist Italy just before World War II. The presence on stage of ‘brown shirts’ did little to make the audience feel better about the behavior of the main characters, and even the color-blind casting doesn’t quite make us forget that in the Merchant – what is objectionable behavior today was very acceptable when the play was written. But topic aside – the production is outstanding. Just go prepared.

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