Stratford Festival’s “All My Sons”

I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with Arthur Miller’s works, I’ve been reading his plays since grade 12 and frequently found that I was disappointed; in the characters or the plot trajectory, nothing really grabbed me. All My Sons did everything but disappoint. Honestly, it totally redeemed Miller in my opinion, with this gripping, troubling, beautiful play.

I found that the themes of this play were very similar to some of Miller’s other works. All My Sons focuses on the relationship between father and son, and how the “American Dream” fits into that relationship. In this case, Joe Keller wants his business to be passed down to his sons, so he makes questionable decisions to ensure that that’s able to happen. Where we see the real tension is between the older generation’s idea of what is necessary versus the younger generation; as the information of the true events of Keller and his former business partner Mr. Deever get revealed it becomes more and more of a burden on Chris, Joe’s son. We see, in two very different ways (through the Keller’s and the Deevr’s), how the sins of the fathers are visited on their sons: one is through anger and mistrust, the other a crushing guilt.

Kate Keller is convinced that her elder son, Larry, who is MIA from the war, is bound to come home. We watch as it consumes her waking and sleeping thoughts. She evens involved her neighbours in trying to convince the rest of the family that she must be correct and Larry must be alive. Her passion boarders on insanity, and yet we see that come crashing to reality when Ann Deever (who used to be Larry’s girlfriend but is now beloved of Chris) shows Kate a letter which Larry sent to her just before he disappeared. It was one of the most striking moments in the play, as Kate reads the letter, she only lets out one shriek, one moment of total release, and then it’s as if all of her sanity has been restored. Instead of destroying her, which I thought it would, the letter makes her somehow more resolute and strong. The change was so instantaneous and the opposite of what I expected, I was floored.

With the play being performed as theatre in the round, these difficult issues and moral crises were inescapable, and I loved it. While the set itself was beautiful and you truly feel like you’re in a beautiful backyard, there was a moment where I realized that there was no way out, for the characters or for us as audience members. Because you are denied the esthetic distance of a proscenium stage, it forces you to be just as involved as the characters are and go on the ride with them, for better or for worse.  

This play was superbly acted, they left you no choice but to care deeply about the characters on stage. Lucy Peacock and Joseph Zeigler lead the cast as Mr and Mrs Keller, providing passionate perofmances that cut to the core. Tim Campbell’s performance as Chris Keller was marvellous, his emotions reached out to every member of the audience, and he had us all feeling heartbroken by the end of the play. Sarah Afful and Michael Blake play Ann and George Deever, who have such drastically different relationships with the Kellers that it hardly seems like they’re related at all, yet their performances were equally beautiful, showing how one event can impact people so differently. Supported by the talents of E.B. Smith, Lanise Antione Shelley, Rodrigo Belifuss, Jessica B. Hill, Maxwell Croft-Fraser, and Brandon Scheidler, this was a well constructed cast without a weak link. 

All My Sons is a play that will leave you puzzling and thinking long after the performance is done. This amazing production only runs until Sunday, so get your tickets now!

Stratford Festival’s “John Gabriel Borkman”

I had been greatly anticipating this show since it’s announcement. I was excited to see a new Ibsen play which I new nothing about and which starred so many of my favourite actors at the festival.  John Gabriel Borkman surpassed any and all expectations I had for the show, presenting an intriguing story beautifully told by its actors and designers.

John Gabriel Borkman is one of those shows which you carry with you once you leave, which is something that I love about theatre. You leave feeling like you’ve been affected by this piece.  It’s rather incredible really, because it is an odd premise, but it’s presented in such a way that I left the theatre mulling it over in my mind for hours.

The story itself is interesting, about a Bank Manager who looses everything and we watch how it affects his family dynamic long after the event has actually occurred. The tension between family members is palpable, and it makes for a riveting story as detail after detail is revealed about their past an how that has come to affect their present. The events of the play were eerily similar to modern cases such as that of Bernie Madoff, making the play far more relatable to our modern audiences than Ibsen could have ever anticipated. At the same time it always is a little unsettling when you see a play written 120 years ago and can find the same behaviour in the world around you; an amazing situation of how life can imitate art.

The stage and set where so whitewashed, and then when the characters enter in their jet black costumes, they seem so foreign in their environment. For me, their dark ensembles truly embodied the pain and suffering that they were enduring. From the black lace of a widow, to draping black velvet, their costumes outwardly displayed their inner torment in such a beautifully visual manner. Especially when juxtaposed against the crisp white of Frida’s dress or the light purple of Mrs. Wilton’s ensemble, all of which plays against the white stage and the snow that tumbles from the sky at the play’s end; it’s a visually stunning show which left me breathless.

Another breathless moment occurred right at the beginning of the play, as twin sisters Mrs. Borkman (Lucy Peacock) and Miss Rentheim (Seana McKenna) first see each other after years of not speaking. When Seana enters the stage, there is this amazing moment where they just stare at one another, taking each other in after so many years apart, and it’s like the theatre collectively held their breath until one of them spoke. Seana and Lucy are such incredible foils for one another in whatever show they are in, but this one was particularly impressive. The way that they are able to play off of one another and the struggle between the two which only gets deeper the more we discover about their pasts made the piece riveting. You become so invested in their lives and why they don’t get along any more and it truly makes you feel deeply for them, especially once you realize that they’ve both been hurt by the same man: John Gabriel Borkman. While I don’t want to give away the juiciest of details, it’s amazing to see how one man in his quest for greatness is able to destroy everything and everyone around him. Scott Wentworth did a phenomenal job portraying the tortured Borkman, whose dream of wealth and glory still haunts him after so many years of his scandal haunting his own family. While you want to hate him for what he’s put his family through, there’s something sympathetic in his desire for something greater than himself and wanting to be able to pick back up once he’s been knocked down. The three leads were perfectly cast, and to watch them all play so well off of one another was truly a pleasure; it’s like watching an All Star game, where the best of the best get to play together and the audience watches in awe of them.

Something that really strikes me is how the play bears the name of John Gabriel Borkman, and while the story is about how his decisions have affected all of the people around him, it’s truly the women who drive the play. It’s Mrs. Borkman’s need for her son to make something of the Borkman name again which drives young Erhart away, but it’s also Miss Rentheim’s total denial of Borkman’s dreams has more power than I think even she realized she could wield over him. Erhart (Antoine Yared) thinks that running off with Mrs. Wilton (Sarah Afful) and Frida (Grace Eddleston) will give him a new life, yet he’s still under the influence of a woman and her desires. In the end, it’s the reconciliation of the sisters which provides a true sense of satisfaction and closure to the piece. It was truly a marvel, one which I will not soon forget.

There’s only one week left of performances of this stunning show! It closes Sept. 23rd, so don’t miss out on your chance to take in this amazing work.

“Elektra by Sophocles”

I have always been interested in seeing Elektra by Sophocles. Having helped to teach other Greek tragedies but not this one in particular, I was excited to have the opportunity to finally see it. I was certainly not disappointed. I cannot imagine a better experience seeing this play.

The first thing one noticed entering the theatre is that the play is to be performed in the round. The bright light that shone down from the ceiling created the playing space, with our seats in two rows around it. It was a brilliant set up because it forced us to be a part of the play, and be aware of not only all of the characters, but the rest of the audience as well. The next thing I noticed were these draped figures around the very outside of the circle. I said to my friend sitting next to me “Don’t those look like people?” and he said to me “They probably are people!” and of course, they were! I couldn’t believe how long they had been sitting there in waiting, finally taking off the cloth and coming into the light with their respective entrances. The whole atmosphere was amazing, and really put me in the right mindset for the rest of the play.

The performances were downright impressive. The cast told the story in a skilful and impressive manner. To me, I saw in this a culmination of everything that they have studied over the past four (and for some of them three) years of their schooling. There was such beautiful movement, voice, and text work, not to mention their costuming, hair and makeup; you can see the expertise that is taught at the University of Windsor and how it will stay with these actors long into their careers.

Alice Lundy played the title role of Elektra and there was not a moment that I did not believe her pain and suffering. Watching her go through such highs and lows was impressive and entrancing. Likewise, her sister Chrysothemis, played by Kathleen Welch goes through those same highs and lows, but with the respect and reverence that was expected of a proper Greek woman. She provides a stark contrast to her seemingly crazed counterpart, and Kathleen played Chrysothemis with a grace beyond her years. Daniela Piccinin portrayed their mother, Clytemnestra, with a stately presence that embodied matriarchy. Her delivery was beautiful, and her passionate pleas were impossible to ignore. Erik Helle played Orestes, brother to Elektra and Chrysothemis, and the vehicle for their revenge. Erik fully embodied this strong, compassionate and perhaps headstrong young man. Mauro Meo’s portrayal of Aegisthus and Ryan Iwanicki’s portrayal of the Old Man were splendid. While the Old Man acts as a sort of Deus Ex Machina for the play, Aegisthus’ return is feared and loathed, both Mauro and Ryan used these roles to their advantage and played them completely. However for me, one of the highlights of the piece was the Chorus. Portrayed by Brendan Kinnon, Emerjade Simms and Ilya Marvin Ilyashyk, they epitomized a traditional Greek chorus, and yet used the amazing movement techniques of a modern play. Their haunting chants and sound advice paired with the way they moved around the stage and interacted with the other characters made them a play unto themselves. I was so impressed with their costumes and mask work as well, they fit the bill perfectly.

The play itself was rather easy to follow, and I definitely saw how the Elektra complex can be thought of as a parallel to the Oedipus complex. The only thing that I found odd (and it is no fault of the actors, but purely the author) was how determined Elektra and Orestes were, and then they seemed to repent almost immediately after the deed was done! While this is rather true to life (how many times do we do or say something that we automatically regret) it just seemed so out of character, especially for Elektra whose struggles and pains we come to empathize with. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like a really quick 180 for characters who felt so justified in what they had done. Otherwise, it was a fascinating play, totally engaging and fascinating, with many mythological allusions and alluring language.

The whole experience was so powerful, beautiful and moving, that my only wish is that more people could have the opportunity to see this amazing production. I must admit, this production inspired me so much, it made me realize that this is the kind of work I’d love to be doing, something fulfilling and artful and gorgeous. I was blown away by the talents of these wonderful actors, and as always am so proud to have been even a small part of their journey to this point in their careers.

University Player’s “The Crucible”

I remember reading this play in Grade 11 English class and not really being a huge fan of the play; however after seeing this production I must admit my mind was changed. I thought that this production was exceptionally well cast, and most certainly well performed. It changed my perspective on the play for sure!

The play itself is a difficult read but a wonder to behold. The events of the play are so frustrating and infuriating, and yet that’s Miller’s point. His audience was in the midst of the same sort of “witch hunting” during President McCarthy’s reign and with that social injustice in mind he is able to show his audience, as well as all audiences since, the ridiculous injustice of such unfounded prying into people’s lives. I’m not sure if it moved the people then, but it certainly moved me. To watch these people being charged, and hanged, all because of the supposedly good word of a few young women was practically unbearable. It’s amazing what ignorance and fear can do to people. And yet we see it all over the world today, people who are willing to do anything in the name of the cause they believe in purely because they think it’s correct. The people of Salem believed they were in danger of witches and witchcraft; they weren’t the first town to think so and they certainly won’t be the last.

The prologue of the play, which was added in by director Gordon McCall, was fabulously done. I loved singing the hymns before the play begins; it put the audience into the proper mindset of the play. Plus it provided a huge contrast to the rest of the prologue. The part with Tituba and the girls in the woods is written in the script, and needs to be acted out for the play to truly make sense. The only issue I had was that the music got very modern the more the prologue went on; at first it was very tribal and drum based (which I really liked because the voodoo magic itself is very tribal in nature) but then it turned into a very pulsating beat like at a dance club. While it created an even more stark contrast than it already possessed, it was a choice I don’t think I would have made (although it really was the only one!)

The way the show looked was incredible as well. I loved how the set worked with negative space and therefore was able to be everywhere the play needed it to be. At the same time the empty beams also resembled the gallows that so many of the characters were destined for. The costumes were lovely. I was so happy that they were of the period; it made the play so much more real to me. I’m always impressed at how amazing and professional these productions are. You can tell how dedicated everyone is to their craft, and the professors that lead these talented students are certainly no exception.

This play was expertly cast. The cast itself was huge, and had students who were as young as first or second year mixed in with the fourth year students. An ensemble cast of that size is not often seen in a University Players production, so this was a real treat. With such a large ensemble it seems almost unfair to select a few to praise, especially since everyone impressed me so much. All I can say, is that there were some of them I wanted to punch, some of them I could have strangled myself, some of them I wanted to hug, and if the play had have gone on much longer, I don’t think I could have made it. I was almost crying by the end of it as it was!

So the University Players have definitely changed my opinion about The Crucible, and I am thankful for it. I felt like I really went through a very difficult experience with these characters. There’s something about seeing this raw human nature on stage that makes for an unforgettable ordeal. Plays like this are why I am so passionate about theatre.

Stratford Festival’s “King Lear”

For this post I’m going to start off by saying this will likely be filled with spoilers about Stratford’s AMAZING production of King Lear starring the incomparable Colm Feore, which I had the absolute pleasure of witnessing on August 23rd. For me, this production was so fascinating and wonderful, that I just can’t keep cooped up all of the ideas and inspiration that came from seeing this show.


First of all, there was the theatre itself. It was freezing cold. I know that the theatres are usually cold for most people, but normally, I’m comfortable. But this was just downright frigid. It was marvellous, because as the storm got worse and as King Lear himself moves outside, it got even colder! It was immersive in a totally different way than expected. To feel and hear the storm along with King Lear makes us suffer with him, makes us understand what he’s feeling.

Having studied this play rather in depth, there were a few things that I was specifically looking for when I was watching the play. The first was King Lear’s entrance. There are two different versions of the play (the quarto and folio) and in one King Lear enters with his crown on and in the other he already has his crown off. While this seems like a subtle difference, it totally shapes how Lear is viewed. In this production, there is no sign of King Lear’s crown, and yet all three of his daughters have circlets on. It shows that Lear’s power has really transferred more to them than resides in Lear. But then, when he banishes Cordelia, he takes off her circlet, and brandishes it as he sends her away, thus temporarily taking back the power he had given Cordelia and using it against her. Now, whether this shows that Lear is mad right from the get go, or that he had just given up on controlling his daughters and his kingdom is totally up to personal interpretation. However, with the way the rest of the play follows, and the theme of madness highlighting the season, I would argue the former.

On a side note, I found that having the all three daughters be young made the play very different to watch. We usually get a very Cinderella like feel from this play, like Goneril and Reagan are so much older and like the ugly stepsisters, and then Cordelia is the sweet, pretty youngest daughter. However with Liisa Repo-Martell, Maev Beaty and Sara Farb all looking around the same age, we instead watch these three sisters compete for their father’s love and then have to deal with his senility and odd behaviour afterwards. I found that because they seemed less like hags, you could feel a little bit more pity for them than what I have seen and felt otherwise. While this certainly doesn’t excuse the actions that Goneril and especially Reagan take against their father, there are other times when the two of them are talking that you understand their frustration with their father a little more.

The other thing I look for is Cordelia’s entrance. Like Lear’s there are small variations between the quarto and folio editions, and yet they do make quite a difference in how we see Cordelia’s re-emergence into her English home. In one version Cordelia enters alone, and in the other she enters with soldiers and drums and trumpets to announce her coming. If she enters with the soldiers and the pomp, it shows that Cordelia has changed, she has become part of the French people who are fighting against the English and her return is triumphant. However if she comes in alone, she looks almost like a refugee, almost like her father who himself is wandering alone. What I found interesting about this production is that it had a little bit of both: there were two soldiers, but none of the triumphant pomp that is a possibility. It makes sense that she would have a small entourage as it would be dangerous for a woman to be entering such a hostile land alone. I think this balance shows the balance of Cordelia herself, that while she has done well for herself in France, she does in a way belong with her family.

Ok, let’s get back to this production itself. One of the first things that I noticed and that I loved was the presence of the Bedlam Beggars. They enter before the play begins and we watch as they attempt to survive the storm that we can hear brewing in the distance. These ‘madmen’ punctuate the play, linking the madness within the court to the madness outside its walls that will later be exploited by Edgar. They really ground the play, the make it feel more like this can happen to anyone rather than just this King, this Aristotelean “great man.” The face that Edgar is invited to go with them at the end, but chooses not to is rather significant as well, it’s like he could have chosen not to be king, not to fulfill the charge that has been laid on him, but to continue to live his life as Poor Tom. It’s fascinating.

Speaking of Poor Tom/Edgar, I thought Evan Buliung was fabulous. I had heard Antoni Cimolino (the amazing director of this beautiful piece of theatre) talk about how he wanted Edgar to come off and how he saw him compared to the generic view of this play, and I thought Evan pulled it off beautifully. While we don’t pity Edgar as much as some other characters (he comes off as a womanizer and a drunk like his father Gloucester) when he is Poor Tom and we watch him grapple with some potentially very real demons, it’s very hard to not feel some sort of pity for him.

There is a scene just after the storm where Poor Tom/Edgar and King Lear first meet, and I thought that Cimolino portrayed it beautifully. When Lear looks into the eyes of this poor beggar he sees himself, and to show that they had two bright spotlights shine down on both of them, looking like a mirror. The questions he proceeds to ask Tom are heartbreaking; asking if his daughters betrayed him too, if that’s why he’s out in this awful storm is because of his ungrateful daughters. While many of the audience members laughed because it’s almost comical the way he fires the questions to rapidly and yet we know they’re about his experience, I wanted to cry. How devastating to watch this poor, old king seeing HIMSELF in this beggar man, in this tortured soul wandering the heath along with him. I found it interesting that while so many people seemed amused I was so crushed by the events, and yet once again it proves the beauty of theatre and the varying experiences one can have.

The storm itself was something to behold. The room is so full of smoke and fog and then out of nowhere comes the shadowy figure of Lear flashing with the lightning. It was stunning. I was petrified. I loved it. It’s something that almost can’t be described and needs to be experienced. And that’s truly what it was, was an experience. It had gotten so cold and the thunder and rain continued rolling through the theatre all during intermission, and you really felt like you were in the storm with King Lear and his fool (played ever so perfectly by Stephen Ouimette).

The other scene that is always worth a mention is the infamous eye plucking scene. I worked on this scene for my Shakespeare class in University, but boy did they ever outdo what I thought could be done with this scene. First of all though, I’d like to mention that Scott Wentworth, who plays Gloucester this season, also played the same role back in 2007 when I first saw Lear at the festival. So to have to watch this man get his eyes plucked out twice in a lifetime is a little bit much! He plays the role so fabulously however, and this time was so different than the last that I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I digress; the eye plucking was so wonderfully gory and awful that even I screamed! They actually threw a fake eye ball, not round and hard but icky and gushy and slimy onto the stage! It was so disgusting, but put the audience so firmly within the play that even the audience members furthest away reacted! It was simultaneously wonderful and petrifying all at once; it was exactly what that scene should be. It’s so horrible what Reagan and Cornwall think they can get away with, especially when they’re in Gloucester’s home! It’s so barbaric, but that shows us another side to madness: where we are willing to do awful animalistic acts just to get what we want or enact what we think is justice on those whom we deem deserve it.

Overall, this to me was a life changing play: I’ll never look at Lear the same way again, nor will I ever forget this particular production. Everyone was so fabulous, so well-cast (I haven’t even gotten to mention Johnathan Goad who played Kent and I LOVED him!), and just overall made it such a moving experience. I cried. I really, really did. Even though I knew what was going to happen, it didn’t matter. This cast, this production, made it so real that I felt so horrible I had to cry. When I told my best friend I cried, he asked me “who did you cry for?” and I told him “all of them, but not so much them, but for their situation. It’s heartbreaking.” To me, that makes it a great work of art, because we cry for all of them, not just one person, we cry because the whole situation just is just awful, and we wouldn’t wish it on anyone and yet we know it happens all the time (just maybe not to only kings). I loved this production more than I can express, and I’m so happy that it will be immortalized on film; it certainly deserves it.

For tickets, go to: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24119&prodid=52389

Stratford Festival’s “Mother Courage and Her Children”

On August 1st I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of my best friends to see Mother Courage and Her Children. I had learned that Brecht was almost an acquired taste and can be seen as odd, however I found this play to be exceptionally entertaining and very easy to follow, although Brecht’s sense of alienation effect (or Verfremdungseffekt) was certainly still present.

The way that Brecht chose to tell this story was very interesting. The play is not gendered as a musical, and yet songs punctuate the play. They are rather folk-like songs that emphasize the war time nature of the play. But they are mixed in with what turns out to be dark and depressing material. This adds to the alienation effect that Brecht is so famous for. Something terrible can happen in one scene, and in the next there’s singing. It’s odd, and makes you think more about what you’re watching and almost shocks you into the fact that you are indeed watching a play.

Another major factor in that Verfremdungseffekt is the way that the dates and scene titles are introduced. It’s very disruptive, as they come out almost every scene, but what I found was the most interesting was that they would often tell you what would ultimately happen in the scene. This creates a sense of expectation and anticipation while you watch. What’s interesting is that they give you just enough information so that it creates this feeling, but not enough that you get a feeling of dramatic irony. I knew what was going to happen, just not how. It was fascinating.

I feel like hearing about this play before seeing it set me up with a lot of expectations, most of which were happily dispelled upon actually seeing it. For example, I heard that this was a great tragedy, and while it certainly wasn’t all that perky, I didn’t feel as moved or saddened by it as I was by other plays I have seen. While I certainly wasn’t all smiles, I didn’t cry either (although I expected I was going to). Another example is that I didn’t find that I disliked Mother Courage. I found that I was able to understand her in a way. She thought she was doing what was best for her children. While she attempted to prevent them from going to war, her main problem was that she was absent when she could have prevented them from dying. This was hard to watch, and yet she was doing what she thought best for her and her children. Had she known what was about to happen, as we did, I feel like she would have been there to protect them.

The play is certainly a critique of capitalist society, especially in the extreme situation of war. However I’m not sure how mad that makes Mother Courage. Of course, there is one moment where she does appear to be mad in the traditional sense (no spoilers!), I don’t think that her desire for money makes her mad. She seemed to me to be resourceful and hardworking, a very good example of a single mother with three grown children who live with her. However, I do see how it could be seen that her bartering for lives (again, I won’t spoil!) could be seen as crazy. This play definitely does not give a clear cut answer to the madness question, just as there is not a clear cut resolution to the play.

The acting in this play was superb. Seana McKenna was fantastic as the titular character. She made me feel bad for her, question her choices, and love watching her fall in love all at once. For me, this is just another fabulous character to add to her amazing portfolio. Carmen Grant at Kattrin was actually the most heart wrenching character of the play; she was the one who truly pulled on our heartstrings rather than her mother. E.B. Smith and Antoine Yared played the other two children, Eilif and Swiss Cheese respectively, and they were also wonderful. It was a wonderful ensemble also featuring Ben Carlson and Geraint Wynn Davies. I can’t say enough good things about this play. It was such an interesting experience and so well acted it made it an absolute pleasure to behold.

On an interesting note, Mother Courage and Her Children takes place in Sweden in the early 1620’s. This is just before the reign of Christina, the main character of Christina the Girl King. So if you want to have a really interesting day of theatre, it would be awesome to go and see Mother Courage at 2 and Christina at 8 (or even one after the other on separate days). It’s so interesting to see the links between plays, not only thematically, but as in this case, time, place, and issues.

If you’d like to buy tickets, here’s the link! : http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24464&prodid=52420