Monday, September 12, 2011

Final two shows at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

I always find it hard to believe when I come to the end of another summer theatre season, as it seems I have barely just begun when it all comes to a screeching halt again.  Of course, the season ends for me, but there is still plenty of time for you to enjoy some great summer theatre either at the Shaw or Stratford Festivals.  Later this month, in fact, we'll review the late-season offerings at both festivals in case you want to pay a visit in September or October.

The last two shows I have to look at in Stratford this season are a couple of great shows, both of which continue until later October, so still lots of time to get to the Festival City to enjoy some great theatre.

Moliere's The Misanthrope opened at the Festival Theatre in August and is a beautifully staged version of the French master's classic tale of the love of several men for a winsome young lady.  The adaptation to English verse by Richard Wilbur is very well done and quite lyrical, almost making you forget it was actually written in French originally.  David Grindley's direction provides a good pace and just enough of a light touch to keep things from lagging behind.  The fabulous sets and costumes by John Lee Beatty and Robin Fraser Paye, respectively, are almost worth the price of admission alone.

But as beautifully staged as this production is, it is the cast that makes it really fly, as it were.  Ben Carlson plays the well-to-do Alceste, totally infatuated with the most sought-after widow in all of Versailles, Celimene, played by Sara Topham.  Sara is breathtakingly beautiful; Carlson is very earnest and convincing in his love for the lady.  Yet, Celimene's desire to enjoy the attentions of several suitors besides Alceste drives him to distraction, setting up some wonderful fireworks between the two in the second act.  The pivotal scene makes this production all worthwhile as both Carlson and Topham go at it on the subject of love and commitment.

The supporting cast is up to the task as well, including Juan Chioran as Alceste's friend, Philinte, and Peter Hutt as Alceste's main rival, Oronte.  Special mention must be made of Kelli Fox, a mainstay for many years at the Shaw Festival, of course, who makes a wonderful turn here as Celimene's friend Arsinoe.  Finally, Brian Tree is his usual reliable and likeable self as Alceste's valet, Dubois.

Moliere knew his audience and knew how far he could go satirizing them as he entertained them, even if they failed to recognize themselves.  But this light and airy look at the privileged class and their foibles I found left me a little indifferent at the end, wondering if we should really care about them after all is said and done.  No matter, the ride taking us to that point is an enjoyable one.

The Misanthrope plays at the Festival Theatre until October 29th and rates a strong 3 out of 4 stars.

Meantime, over at the Avon stage, Harold Pinter's The Homecoming opened in late August and continues until October 30th.  It is a play both fascinating and unnerving at the same time, dating as it does from 1964.  How interesting, though, and perhaps reassuring in a way, there were grossly dysfunctional families portrayed on stage back then as well, and they don't come much more dysfunctional than this one.

Almost immediately we are introduced to the central character, Max, a crusty old widower played with great skill by Brian Dennehy.  He can praise his late wife in one breath and then do a complete 360 and trash her the next, leaving you to wonder how he can possibly be so kind one moment and cruel the next?  His nemesis right off the bat is his son, Lenny, played with razor-sharp wit by Aaron Krohn.  He is the grown-up version of the know-it-all kid, sparrring constantly with Max, finally meeting his match in the lovely Ruth, the wife of brother Teddy.  Ruth, played by Cara Ricketts, is wonderfully understated and as a result, very sexy.  Her husband, Teddy, played by Mike Shara, really has no idea what is coming in the second act, almost appearing as a deer in the headlights lost soul.  The other son is Joey, a fighter who shall we say, gets to know Ruth better than one could imagine.

Special mention goes to Stephen Ouimette's Sam, the put-upon brother of Max who never married and is a professional driver to and from the airport.  Stephen and Dennehy have a real chemistry here, first seen in their comedic roles in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Festival Theatre.  I suspect Brian wanted Stephen for this role, and if that is the case it was a wise choice to agree on the part of director Jennifer Tarver.

The Homecoming is typical Pinter, which means an acquired taste; that was perhaps evidenced by the smallish crowd at the performance I attended in late August, but for those who choose to go, you're in for some very special performances that make it worth the effort.

The Homecoming continues until October 30th and rates a very strong 3 out of 4 stars.

September 12th, 2011.

No comments: