Theatre

Darkness and light

The Stratford Festival ranges from anguish to delight

John Bemrose June 19 2000
Theatre

Darkness and light

The Stratford Festival ranges from anguish to delight

John Bemrose June 19 2000

Darkness and light

Theatre

The Stratford Festival ranges from anguish to delight

The Straford Festival recently launched its 48th season with six new shows, ranging from the inspired tomfooleiy of The Three Musketeers to the tragic tensions of The Diary of Anne Frank. A brief critical summary:

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet (to Nov. 5), television star Paul Gross first presents the Prince of Denmark as a rather conventional young man of 20 or so. But his life changes forever when he is seized by his father’s ghost (an impressive Juan Chioran) and ordered to avenge his murder. Rarely has the motivation for Hamlet’s bizarre behaviour been made so shockingly clear: the prince is literally haunted by his father— injected with a psychosis that continually erupts throughout the play. There are really two Hamlets here: the placid exterior one and the seething, unknown Hamlet inside, a creature of fear, guilt and rage. Gross plays these two brilliantly against themselves, and in the process takes us inside Hamlet as few actors have been able to. His performance loses intensity towards the end, yet the chief failure of this Joseph Ziegler-directed production is in the major supporting roles: too often the

actors take refuge in the beauty of the language while evading the play’s emotional core.

Fiddler on the Roof is the festival’s musical this year, and it’s one of the most thrilling productions ever mounted at Stratford (to Nov. 4). Directed by Susan H. Schulman, this remount of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 classic boasts a fauldess cast led by the luminous Brent Carver as Tevye, the dairyman. In a role originally made famous by the larger-than-life Zero Mostel, Carver utilizes his own crafty combination of startled innocence and humorous understatement to reach the pathos at the heart of this tale about a village in prerevolutionary Russia.

The Three Musketeers is a mere cream puffin comparison—but an exquisitely concocted one (to Nov. 4). Directed by Richard Monette, this 1968 Peter Raby adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s novel features lots of sparkling swordplay, witty banter and the kind of in-yourface comic gusto Stratford is noted for. The ebullient cast is led by Kate

Trotter’s deliciously villainous Milady de Winter, a woman for whom sex is just a foil of another kind.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy (to Nov. 4), is being performed with its normally omitted third act restored— which makes for a longer if not noticeably better play. But director Monette has extracted performances of great comic precision and verve from his cast, and particularly from the four young lovers (Donald Carrier, Graham Abbey, Michelle Giroux, Claire Jullien) for whom the obstacles to love are as fascinating as love itself.

The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (to Nov. 5) is not a particularly strong play, considered on its own merits, but it brings the reality of the Holocaust continually to mind, and so achieves, in this solid, Al Waxman-directed version, a considerable moral and emotional weight. Led by 17-year-old Maggie Blake as Anne, this tale of how several Dutch Jews hid from their Nazi persecutors is sustained by a fine ensemble effort.

As You Like It, one of William Shakespeare’s loveliest comedies (to Nov. 4), focuses on no less than four pairs of quarrelling lovers who wander haplessly around the Forest of Arden. In the end, all are reconciled, but not before director Jeannette Lambermont and designer Douglas Paraschuk have had some fun with their weirdly brutalist set, where hanging ropes stand in for trees. The theoretical concept behind this show may be hard to grasp, yet it features some of the finest acting at Stratford just now, including Juan Chioran’s slyly dyspeptic Jaques. His delivery of the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech is electrifying.

John Bemrose