Friday, August 15, 2008

2008 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Season Reviews
By David Grapes

Productions are listed in order of preference


The Trojan Women (Tom Patterson)
• Wonderful new script translation from Nicholas Rudall (a taut 1 hour and 40 minutes)
• Iconic and memorable performance by Martha Henry as Hecuba
• Strong supporting cast featured Seanna McKenna (Andromache) and Kelli Fox (Cassandra)
• Brilliant design concept from Stratford veteran John Pennoyer
• Marvelous use of the difficult Patterson stage and complex chorus work from director Marti Maraden
• Contained powerful visual images that were supported by solid vocal and character work
• Excellent pace and effective emotional variety
• Evocative sound design and original score by Marc Desormeaux (burning of Troy, percussion, choral singing)
• Nice ensemble work from the acting company (especially the chorus led by Severn Thompson)
• Actors and the audience were emotionally and intellectually engaged

Hamlet (Festival)
• Intelligent, quirky, funny, acerbic and idiosyncratic performance by Ben Carlson in title role
• Carlson handled the famous soliloquies well
• Stunning visuals (costumes, scenery) which created a more modern Danish court (Santo Loquasto)
• Interesting locations (pool room, piano salon, train station)
• Enjoyed the use of on stage piano music except for the one very “new age” song that Ophelia sang to an electronic synthesizer in act two
• Nice use of lantern effects
• Creative use of stage business
• Solid direction/concept and consistent interpretation from Adrian Noble
• The players were well acted
• Scott Wentworth seemed emotionally unengaged and spent a lot of the play stumbling and mumbling. He needed the ambition, ego and sexual appetite that he later demonstrated in Fuente Ovejune
• Maria Ricossa’s Gertrude was weak and unmemorable. She had very little command of the verse, projected a quality that was cold and asexual and lacked physical and vocal energy
• There was no sexual Chemistry what so ever between Claudio and Gertrude. I felt like they actually did not like each other very much.
• Ophelia seemed physically and emotionally awkward undefined in the first half of the play but her performance improved once she went mad
• Mature articulate performance by Geraint Wyn Davies as Polonius
• Combat from fight director John Stead at the end of the play was not well staged or executed and felt dangerous (in the wrong way) to the audience

The Music Man (Avon)
• Stunning “American Gothic” set design featuring a miniature main street by Patrick Clark
• Beautiful period costumes that really flowed well during the dance numbers
• Jonathon Goad made an excellent Harold Hill. He acted it well and held his own during the musical numbers. A smooth charismatic performance with just the right amount of testosterone. His Harold Hill had just a dash of Petruchio and Benedict which helped ground the performance
• Leah Oster as Marion sang well and was lovely to look at. Her transition from act one skeptic/loner to act two romantic cheerleader was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It enabled us to believe in Harold’s own transformation and decision to remain in River City at the end of the musical.
• Both of the children (Christopher Van Hagen and Aveleigh Keller) were excellent singers and adorable actors
• Wonderful quartet featuring the ever debonair Laird Williamson
• Nice directorial work and use of the Avon stage by American Susan H. Schulman
• Fiona Reid’s Mrs. Shinn was weak and lost most of the characters comic opportunities. Ms. Reid a capable actor seemed out of her element in the musical numbers and in River City in general
• Lee MacDougall’s Mayor Shinn was serviceable, however, I would have liked to have seen him played as a more formidable adversary for Harold which would have raised the stakes and created more dramatic tension (something this musical could use more of)
• Fantastic orchestra support under the capable baton of Berthold Carriere
• Nice ensemble work led by Sara Topham as Edith Toffelmier and Eric S. Robertson as Tommy Djilas
• A real audience favorite and a wonderful opportunity to bring children with you to the theatre

All’s Well That Ends Well (Festival)
• More excellent directorial work by Marti Maraden
• Play had a Chekovian feel to it
• Simple yet elegant set that allowed the play to flow and breathe
• Beautiful stage pictures on designer Christina Poddubiuk’s elegant setting
• Strong ensemble performances by Martha Henry, Jeff Lillico, Daniela Vlaskalic Brian Dennehy, Ben Carlson, Juan Chioran and Stephen Ouimette
• The strongest text work of the 2008 season
• Well cast right down to the smallest roles
• A simple well-spoken production. Full of beautiful language and characters that we could all care about
• A text book demonstration of how to effectively use the large festival stage to serve the actors and the work

There Reigns Love (Patterson)
• Warm charming performance of the sonnets by film and stage actor/authors Simon Callow who obviously has a deep love for the words and language of Shakespeare
• Interesting mix of poetry and theatre
• Well produced
• Nice pace and variety in Callow’s performance. The performance never became an academic lecture
• A rare opportunity to hear 80+ sonnets performed out load by a consummate actor with a mellifluous speaking voice

Cabaret (Avon)
Fuente Ovejuna (Patterson)
The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare’s Universe (Pavillion)

Love’s Labour’s Lost
Romeo and Juliet

Caesar and Cleopatra (featuring Christopher Plummer opens August 17th)
Emilia Galotti (previews begin November 5)
Krapp’s Last Tape/Hughie (Starring Brian Dennehy – This production was SRO)
Palmer Park
Moby Dick

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