Oedipus Rex

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Seen June 30 2015, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario (first preview)

Written by Sophocles, translated by Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay

Directed by Daniel Brooks

When leaving the Tom Patterson Theatre last night, a gentleman behind us remarked ‘I hope this gets good reviews. I liked it.’. Let’s see what I can do about that, even though I doubt he was talking about amateur blogs.

The play is a rather short one, running one hour 45 minutes. It also sports the longest list of warnings I can remember having seen at the entrance, ranging from the usual haze, smoke and profanity to prolonged full nudity. There is no Intermission, so consider braving the washroom queue.

I thought the story of Oedipus was well-known, but overhearing some patrons in the theatre, it seems  a spoiler warning is needed after all. I am also going to massively break my ‘no production spoilers’ rule, so be warned. Please bear in mind that this was the first preview, so things might still be tweaked.

At the start of the play, there’s a metal rolling table with matching desk chair on stage, with 6 (I think) chairs on either long side of the thrust stage. Those are used throughout the play as needed, along with very few other props.

Gord Rand’s king Oedipus appears in an egg shell coloured suit, in stark contrast to the dark grey suited citizens. The entire setting looked a lot like a CEO meeting with members of the board, although the percentage of women would have been too optimistic for that. For quite some time, Oedipus and the red robed priestess are the only ones wearing colour.

Yanna McIntosh and Lally Cadeau get to wear blue for a short time and Jocasta and Oedipus’ young daughters Antigone and Ismene innocent white. Along with some dramatic red lighting when things get bloody, the only other splash of colour is Nigel Bennett’s Teiresias who is a true ray of hippyish sunshine in the play’s sea of grey and proves the saying that there are no small parts right once again.

The industrial corporate setting is supported by a repetitive, monotone sound design that frankly started to grate very early on. At least it allowed my poor sister who caught a cold to sneeze and blow her nose undetected once she had figured out the pattern. I was sitting right next to her and was suprised about the amount of tissues amassed at the end.

The other thing I wasn’t too thrilled about falls into the sound category as well. Having the citizens use a microphone for their declarations seemed unnecessary and frankly was mixed so poorly, especially when Brad Hodder was at the mic, that it was physically painful.

The performances were solid across the board with Nigel Bennett standing out as mentioned above, as well as Christopher Morris. Actually, his portrayal of steadfast Kreon was what I would have liked to see in Hamlet’s Horatio.

However, all the cast’s combined effort would have been naught without titular Oedipus pulling his weight. Gord Rand really knocked it out of the park and was believable from brash, almost arrogant king in the beginning, growing more and more nervous throughout the play. The desparation brought on by having his suspicions confirmed right up to the jarring finale that has Oedipus blind, bleeding and naked begging to be banished to save the people of Thebes from the plague had everyone at the edges of their seats. Cudos also to the make up department; I couldn’t entirely figure out how the eyes were done for the finale.

All in all, it was a good production elevated by a phenomenal lead actor. I’m looking forward to reading the reviews to see if anything changed once the play officially opens. For now, I am glad we decided to stay in Stratford long enough to catch Oedipus Rex and Possible Worlds.

She Stoops to Conquer

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Written by Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by Martha Henry

Seen June 25 2015, Avon Theatre, Stratford Ontario

This post Restauration comedy was the first in our trio of comedies. I am actually not that big a fan of the genre and often find dramatic plays funnier (see Hamlet), but this almost screwball comedy made for a nice evening of light entertainment.

At least I am categorising as ‘light’, because otherwise I’d have to ask why Continue reading

King John

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Seen September 6, Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Tom McCamus, Patricia Collins, Andrew Lawrie, Jennifer Mogbock, Brad Rudy, Stephen Russell, Sean Arbuckle, Wayne Best, Daniel Briere, Graham Abbey, Brigit Wilson, Ryan Field, Peter Hutt, Adrew Robinson, Rylan , Wilkie, Jamie Mac, Anthony Malarky, Antoine Yared, Noah Jalava, Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, André Morin, Karack Osborn, Carmen Grant, Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings, Brian Tree

Directed by Tim Carroll

Somewhere over the Atlantic now and still bumpy. The 10 fingers typing system gets interesting when netbook and hands are moving in different directions….

King John was our last play in Stratford this year, but also a first; out of the three of us, none had ever read or seen it, so we really weren’t prepared for the Graham Abbey show that was the first half of the play. It was absolutely hilarious and a few teenagers in the first row are probably never going to forget that making a loud noise during a performance can lead to you being dragged into things for the rest of the night.

To those who read my previous posts: you are probably going to think I’m repeating myself when I’m saying how great the entire cast was, but it’s true. I am not going to point out every single cast member – even though they would have deserved it – but I would watch the Abbey/McCamus (who is brilliant in reacting via facial expressions alone)/Arbuckle comedy hour any time, this (and Mother Courage) might be the best I’ve seen Peter Hutt do so far and the person who found Noah Jalava, who plays young Arthur should get an award. Most adults would have trouble with that many lines and the kid not only memorised them perfectly, but also displayed quite some acting talent.

There was one side-effect of the witty first half of the play: walking out, we heard several patrons complain that the second part wasn’t as funny as the first one. King John isn’t that well known and apparently the shenanigans at the beginning led some to believe they were watching a comedy which resulted in disappointment later on.

Speaking of shanenigans, if you are on Twitter you might want to check out the Ladies of Angiers (#ladiesofangiers) to see what they have been up to in Stratford in the last months.

One issue I had with the play: if that’s the way Austrians are being treated in Stratford now we might have to reconsider future visits 😉

Mother Courage and Her Children

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Seen: September 6 (Matinée), Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, Antoine Yared, Carmen Grant, Randy Hughson, Wayne Best, Sean Arbuckle, Geraint Wyn Davies, Ben Carlson, Peter Hutt, Daniel Briere, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Jennifer Mogbock, Anthony Malarky, André Morin, Brad Rudy, Karack Osborn, Stephen Russell, Jamie Mac, Andrew Lawrie, Ryan Field, Brigit Wilson, Patricia Collins, Andrew Robinson, Cal Potter, Laura Burton

Directed by Martha Henry

Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing this. Not only were we running around like headless chickens during our time left in Toronto, for some reason it’s possible to get a decent internet connection in Stratford but not in the big city, so I couln’t have uploaded the remaining two reviews anyway. If you can read this, the connection over the pond was stronger 😉

We are currently getting shaken through over Newfoundland on the way to London where we are going to see The Crucible at the Old Vic later today and Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios tomorrow night before going back to Vienna (and a live screening of A Streetcar Named Desire), so there will be more posts some time next week.

There seems to be a second motto in Stratford this season next to ‚Minds Pushed to the Edge‘: Actors Mingling with the Audience. Before Mother Courage and her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) started, some of the actors were walking around, chatting up unsuspecting patrons.

The stage was bare except for a chopping block and a ramp and of course once the play got underway Mother Courage’s wagon – both home and business to her and her children.

I have to admit I don’t care much for Bert Brecht or the play. German can be a harsh sounding language at the best of times, to me Brecht manages to make it sound downright ugly. I was still willing to give Mother Courage another try, not only because my sister wanted to see it and I was courious how it would be handled, but also because it’s sadly very current again with all the conflicts rising up in the last years. And of course it was performed in English.

When the cast and director were announced, it was getting clear that the play was in very good hands. Martha Henry is not only a great actress, but once more proved that she’s brilliant behind the scenes too. Seana McKenna is a formidable Mother Courage who almost made me sympathise with the character. Carmen Grant, Ben Carlson and Geraint Wyn-Davies are not just accompanying her along the way and help illustrate different phases and relationships in her life, their characters are all interesting and important to the story in their own right. Grant’s Kattrin is speaking volumes without a single line of text.

While I am never going to be a fan of Brecht’s, I actually really liked this simply staged and well-acted production and really recommend it.

PS: ‚Fichtelgebirge‘ really isn’t pronounced like that 😉