2012 Shakespeare Overview

By Aaron Kropf

As we all know by now, 2012 marks the Diamond 60th Season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. In this milestone year of celebration, the Festival brings you three plays that reveal very different facets of Shakespeare’s genius – a comedy, a history and a romance – together with a hilarious comic take on one of his most popular tragedies. Let’s have a quick look at each of the Shakespeare shows on our 2012 playbill, starting with the one that opens first.

MacHomer is Shakespeare with a difference, pairing one of his best-known plays with one of the 20th century’s most recognizable families. Actor and comedian Rick Miller has entertained audiences around the globe with this mashup of Macbeth and – wait for it – The Simpsons. Now, I know many of you are asking: why would the Stratford Shakespeare Festival present a send-up of Shakespeare? Well, for two reasons: first, MacHomer is brilliantly entertaining in its own right, and second, it’s a great way of introducing Shakespeare to new audiences. Younger folks whose only experience of these plays has come from reading them in school will discover the amazing world of Shakespeare in performance – via a popular-culture phenomenon they’re already comfortable with. MacHomer runs at the Studio Theatre early in the season, from May 2 to May 26, with its official opening May 5.

The show featured in this season’s gala opening is Much Ado About Nothing. Directed by Christopher Newton (former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival), this high comedy contains some of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters and some of his most glorious wit. If you haven’t already read the article on Much Ado’s “merry war” of words in our November issue of SceneNotes, be sure to take a look at it here. With a fantastic cast led by real-life husband and wife Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay as Benedick and Beatrice, this is one production you won’t want to miss. Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Festival Theatre from April 26 to October 27, opening May 28.

Next to open is the romance Cymbeline, directed by Stratford Shakespeare Festival General Director Antoni Cimolino. Being produced for only the fourth time in the Festival’s history, this beautifully moving play has a cast that includes Cara Ricketts as Imogen and Geraint Wyn Davies in the title role. Don’t miss your chance to see this rarely performed masterpiece – who knows when the opportunity will come again? Cymbeline plays at the Tom Patterson Theatre from May 10 to September 30, opening May 31.

Finally, to round out our 60th season celebration, we’re presenting the epic drama Henry V – which will open at the Festival Theatre on the anniversary of our very first performance in 1953. This is a play with special significance for Stratford: when we first presented it in 1956 (our last season in the original tent), Christopher Plummer played the title role and the production became a legend in Canadian theatrical history. Aaron Krohn, who won such critical acclaim in 2011 for his performance as Lenny in The Homecoming, will play Henry this time round, in a production directed by our Artistic Director, Des McAnuff. Henry V runs June 24 to September 29, opening July 13. Here’s a video that will tell you a little more about the show:

We hope you’ll join us in 2012: it promises to be a stellar 60th season!


Give thanks for Grapes

By: Christi Rutledge

Since Canadian Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought there would be no better time to talk about the power of the family. As we prepare to snuggle down this long weekend, let’s take a quick look at a production this season that makes me feel especially thankful: The Grapes of Wrath (it inspires gratitude in a very different way from The Homecoming – but that’s a whole other story and a whole other blog ). More powerful than the poverty, addictions, violence or tragedy is the force of family in this production. Frank Galati’s adaptation focuses on the heart of an incredible family as it brings Steinbeck’s story of the Joads to life on stage.

As the Joad family is tested and their material goods are taken away, what remains strong is the desire and the need for support from one another. The family is resilient throughout the production; in my opinion, this is largely thanks to the strong role that the women play in keeping the family together. Ma Joad, played by Janet Wright, harnesses the family and gives them direction, purpose and advice when the going gets tough — and it gets pretty tough. When Rose of Sharon (played by Chilina Kennedy) loses her baby and it seems that the family has nothing for which to be grateful, Ma once again pulls the family together. If you have read the book, then you already know about Rose of Sharon’s final act of benevolence. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil the end for you.

While some people might feel inclined to be upset by all of the loss, I think that there is a bigger picture to this play. This is a piece of theatre that reinforces the importance of families sticking together, placing one another before oneself and, most of all, being thankful for what you have. I’ve seen this show a couple times now and still leave the theatre feeling hopeful – and, more importantly, incredibly thankful.

Check out this great clip from The Grapes of Wrath as the family gives thanks at the dinner table:

I am in love with this production of The Grapes of Wrath and I want to make sure that you see it this season – so I’m sharing a special ticket deal with you and your families. Until the end of the season, enjoy $29 tickets to any production of The Grapes of Wrath. To redeem this great offer, go to www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com and log in with promotion code 40963.

The Pinter Pause

Many elements come together when we put on a production, most obviously the work of the actors, directors, designers and crew. But sometimes it’s the absence of something that gives an effect its particular power.

Light and darkness, movement and stillness, sound and silence each gain significance from their counterparts. A stage bathed in light all the time would afford no opportunity for the emphasis created by a single spotlight. The same is true of silence; without it, meaningful moments would be lost in a general wash of sound.

This is particularly true of the plays of Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, whose famous “Pinter pauses” have given new meaning to the importance of silence. Pauses run through all of Pinter’s work – and they occur in The Homecoming a whopping 224 times.

The “Pinter pause” is typically found partway through a line of speech. It’s not a prolonged or pregnant pause of the kind that’s often used to draw attention to a particular moment. Rather, it’s a brief pause that’s used to reflect the natural rhythm of speech. It represents the moment for thought that we all take in our daily conversations, when we pause and consider what it is we want to say.

As The Homecoming is the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s first foray into the works of Harold Pinter, why not take the opportunity to go to the Avon Theatre this season and see what the “Pinter pause” is all about? Perhaps while you’re watching, something will give you pause for thought.

As a side note, this the second time director Jennifer Tarver and actor Brian Dennehy have worked together at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. They first teamed up in 2008, when Ms Tarver directed Mr. Dennehy in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape as part of a double bill at the Studio Theatre. Which brings us to a connection between these two and Harold Pinter. Check out this video to see what that connection is:

The video is Harold Pinter performing Krapp’s Last Tape.