Stratford Festival’s “The Hypochondriac”

The Hypochondriac may have started a little later in Stratford’s season, but it was definitely worth the wait. A hilarious Restoration comedy which was just as relevant today as for Molière himself, The Hypochonriac is sure to tickle everyone’s funny bone!

I really enjoyed the frame narrative for the play; not only was it based on the true facts surrounding the original play itself, but also was a great nod to the time period in general. I loved the Commedia Dell’Arte performance, the juggling and music and tumbling, all beautiful examples of the kind of street art which was so prevalent at the time and heavily informed Molière’s theatre. We also get to see Molière’s company preparing for the performance, totally unaware of what will befall them later in the evening. When the “doctors” came out at the end of that section with the cell phone, I nearly feel out of my chair laughing; I love it when they’re able to give the standard “Please turn off your cell phone” message in a unique and funny way. 

The appearance of King Louis further solidified the time period for the piece, but then also gave context to the many nods which are given to him throughout the play. It also added a level of meta-theatricality, making the frame all the more complete. 

However, at the end of the play, when the play within the play is over, and Molière (Stephen Ouimette) has taken ill, that meta-theatrically comes into play again as La Thorilliere (Ben Carlson) calls out “Is there a doctor in the house?” Reality comes crashing in on the hilarity we have just witnessed. This sobering ending was totally smashed to bits at the performance I attended, where someone said back “I’m not a doctor, but I’m a dentist!” We all laughed at the spontaneity of the whole incident, and yet it’s one of the things that make theatre the beautiful art it is; no one had ever shouted back before, the cast was flabbergasted! And yet that afternoon that lone voice responded to La Thorilliere’s pleas. And who knows if it’s happened again since? These one-off experiences make the show all the more memorable.

However the expert acting in this show is what’s truly memorable! Ouimette especially was pitiful, hilarious and yet loveable; a perfect Restoration lead. He was supported by a large, impressive cast, including Brigit Wilson, Trish Lindström, Ian Lake, Luke Humphrey and Shannon Taylor. They were truly able to bring not only Molière’s story, but his whole world to life on stage. And some of the cast exhibited extraordinary tablets: from tumbling to juggling to music and dancing, the expertise of the whole cast was truly put on display, and made for a feast for the eyes.

The Masque at the end of the play has to be one of my favourite conclusions to one of Molière’s works, as Argan (Ouimette) becomes the solution to his own ailments, and we can see a clear path to happily-ever-after for the characters involved. It provides a perfect juxtaposition to the ending to the play itself as I had mentioned previously; once Argan’s problems are solved, Molière’s begin. 

One of the things that I found the most interesting was how a modem audience was able to connect so fully to this play. Often times with Restoration comedy, there are so many jokes which are couched in inuendo or timely references that they don’t play well for a modern audience. Yet because this play deals with the human body, our health and the medical system, it remains totally relatable and still hysterical for today’s theatre-goers. It actually gives the show the same kind of universally human qualities that we see in other of our most beloved plays. 

The Hupochondriac closes on the 14th, so make sure to catch this hilarious comedy!

Flashback Friday – Stratford 2015

As I ready myself for a weekend of theatre at the Stratford Festival, I want to take a quick look back at the remaining shows which I saw from the 2015 season.
On August first I was lucky to get to take in two shows: Carousel and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Both of them were fairly new to me (I saw Carousel when I was young but didn’t remember the production), and made for a memorable day of theatre. 

Carousel was a visually stunning show which I thoroughly enjoyed. I had a great personal attachment to this show as a friend of mine from school, Alexis Gordon, had the lead role of Julie Jordan. This was her Stratford debut and she blew me away! She paired so well with Johnathan Winsby, and I was amazed by her beautiful voice. She was one of a great many amazing actors involved in this production.

The carousel itself was AMAZING! Such a beautiful, intricate piece of machinery that immediately solicited “oohs” and “ahs” from the audience. The glowing full sized carousel horses were stunning. It truly sets the stage for the rest of the play: the allure of the carnival, the light it brings into their lives, and the darkness that settles when it leaves. 

What made me sad was how the reviews of the play focused so heavily on the domestic violence aspect of the play, rather than the story as a whole. While the subject is rather jarring, and certainly unacceptable by modern standards, it is truly just a portion of a much larger story. The play, as a whole, is beautiful, and while the ending is a little strange I feel like there are larger issues at play like love, forgiveness, and learning from the past. It was an emotional journey with sensational singing and dancing; truly a joy to behold. 

Later that evening, I was fortunate enough to take in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. Upon good advisement, I read the play on my way there, and yet the language was so beautifully crafted that it was easily understood. The play is funny beyond measure, and while it lacks the clear resolution we all desire, its self awareness of this fact made it all the more enjoyable.

One aspect which I found especially intriguing was how the play looks at learned men. Both depictions have major flaws, and yet Holofrenes’ ignorance comes off as merely comical, while Navarre’s lack of will power (along with the rest of his men) is slightly more disconcerting. Neither of them truly exhibit all of the qualities they claim to have, and so we get a glimpse of how similar “learned” men were viewed in the period.

In direct contrast to them are Moth and Don Adriano de Armando, and while they provide a level of comic relief, Moth is the most observant character in the play. These two stole the show, making us laugh and question what we were watching throughout the show. It’s amazing to see this articulate child be far smarter than the grown men he serves.

I found that this was an exceptionally well cast piece, with every bit of the puzzle fit in so perfectly. It was also a fun mix of Festival favourites and newcomers, which was such fun to watch!

The following afternoon, We got to experience The Sound of Music. This show has always been a favourite of mine, yet this production easily stood on its own and didn’t even warrant comparison to the film. I actually found it to be great fun to get to fall in love with this story all over again. 

The while production, every little element of it, was awe inspiring; I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the show. Stephanie Rothenberg, who played Maria, was so genuine and emotional, she did an amazing job with the kids, she was a pleasure to watch. She sang beautifully, as did the Mother Superior, and I felt that she played off Ben Carlson very well.

The set itself deserves special mention, as they had a full size gazebo which collapsed and expanded like an umbrella and a little tree on a hill for Maria’s hilltop scenes. This, paired with the grand staircase which was able to be transformed into every location required, shows the true extent of the marvel the Stratford Festival is able to inspire.

The children in the show were absolutely adorable, and performed like such professionals. We even found out later that one of the young ladies was the understudy, but you would never have known. They brought a happiness and light to the show which totally made it the incredible show it was.

Overall, the Startford 2015 season was one of pure delight. From old friends to new discoveries, dramas to musicals, thought provoking to light hearted; 2015 had it all! I’m so glad I got to see as many shows as I was, and I look forward to what 2016 has in store.

Stratford Festival’s “As You Like It”

I was so happy to take two of my dearest friends to Stratford for their first time to see As You Like It back in June. We had been planning the trip since last December, so we’d been counting down the months and weeks until we finally got to go! The show was well worth the wait, and was way beyond expectations.

The setting for the show was wonderfully done; from the costumes to the hair, they didn’t miss a beat at making sure we knew it was the 80’s! Setting it in the East Coast made it even more fun. It really helped with the inclusive feel of the show (more on that to come) and gave a whole different kind of energy and life into the performance. The singing and dancing was infectious! We couldn’t stop smiling and danced all the way to the car. The set itself was beautifully simplistic and malleable, making each location distinct and lovely; the Forest of Arden being the most beautiful of all.

As I mentioned earlier, the show asks for full audience participation, and what a joy it is to do so! Upon entering the audience is asked to take a small bag with several items inside (most of which you get to take home!) and you are given instructions by Hymen herself (played by Robin Hutton) as to what props to use when. It was great fun and made for lots of laughs. One of my favourite moments happened in the second scene of the play, as Celia (Trish Lindström) is trying to comfort her saddened Rosalind (Petrina Bromley), Celia takes away the tub of ice cream that Rosalind has been devouring, and offers it up to an audience member. “Sure! I’d love some!” I said, and next thing I knew I had a tub of ice cream with a scoop or two of vanilla left in the bottom. With a thumbs up from Celia I figured I’d likely not get an opportunity like this again, so I enjoyed the rest of the ice cream throughout the next scene. What a treat! We laughed about it all through dinner! We loved getting to be trees in the Forrest, waves in the sea, and a lush meadow fit for a wedding. If you love to feel like a part of the show, you’ll love this production!

Aside from the setting, Jillian Keiley made another fascinating choice which I really enjoyed seeing played out: the Duke and Jaques were both women in this production. It was a very interesting contrast to the usually male dominated sphere of the Forrest. The Duchess Senior (Brigit Wilson) is surrounded by her people, and is therefore more safe than Rosalind and Celia would be on their own. But Jaques’ character is even more layered in this production, and made her even more interesting.

Jaques was portrayed by Seana McKenna, who outdid herself once again with this role. Hearing her say one of the most famous speeches in the Shakespearean Cannon (“All the world’s a stage…”) was even better than I had imagined. What fascinated me most was Jaques’ position as a voyeur, and how that was manifested in this play. It is frequently mentioned how melancholy Jaques watches the world go by, commenting on things as (s)he goes, however in this production, the voyeurism goes to the extent of Jaques having cameras and notepads, ways of recording what (s)he sees. The notion that (s)he was, in the court at least, some kind of reporter makes total sense, and also explains some of the melancholy that (s)he finds in the world. It was brilliant!

These are truly just some of the highlights of what will always be a memorable show to me. The whole thing created such a perfect image of what this play can do, and where Shakespeare’s words can take us, it’s well worth seeing. Bring the family and go on a theatrical adventure! I truly can’t recommend this show enough! For ticket information, visit http://www.stratfordfestival.ca

Stratford Festival’s “Pericles” and Director’s Day 2015

I was so excited to get to see a play by Shakespeare which I had absolutely no previous connection to whatsoever. This is such a rare occurrence for me, that when it does happen, it’s lovely to take advantage of. So I knew next to nothing going into the play, other than that Pericles was one of the most complex plots I had heard of. I was absolutely blown away with what director Scott Wentworth did with the piece.

How we got to experience this play was wonderfully unique and something that I hope to do again. We got to take part in what is called Director’s Day, where we have a pre-show chat (and lunch!) with the director, then we see the show (or you can see another one) and then you come back for a Q&A and dinner! The way the day is organized is beyond awesome, and they certainly have the whole thing down to a science. But to hear about the play from Mr. Wentworth himself was wonderful, as he was able to give us enough of an idea about what we were going to see that we could understand what he wanted to accomplish, but he certainly didn’t spoil anything for us either. And to get to hear his thoughts about directing and what it means to be a director was really inspiring for me as I was just embarking on my first directorial venture.

When I first saw that the play was set in the Victorian period, I was a little hesitant and didn’t really understand, but then I thought about the ideas of expansion and colonialism and thought, ok. But then to hear Mr. Wentworth talk about it, about the taboo subjects that the Victorians appalled but Shakespeare could talk about, and how he wanted to see “what they were so afraid of,” it made it even more enjoyable. And yet the play just seemed to feel right, and not just because of what I had heard beforehand, it just suited the out of this world plotline and wonderful characters.

The costumes and sets for this play were beautiful, and allowed for the audience to be transported to the various locations that Shakespeare requires. The set especially was beautiful for the scenes at the abbey, where the walls were filled with lit candles. It was mesmerizing and yet didn’t detract from the scene. What was even more amazing was when the rest of the cast came out to act out the shipwreck and removed Pericles’ clothes and passed around his boat. To watch them move as a single unit and become what is so hard to depict was awesome, and one of the moments that still stands out in my mind.

The role doubling for each adventure Pericles embarks on was rather amazing, and forced us to draw the parallels that Mr. Wentworth wanted us to. Wayne Best certainly went through the most drastic changes between roles, and that made it all the more incredible to witness. And while it seems like that would be confusing, it somehow flowed so well that I never felt confused. The plot seemed so linear despite it having a rather circular pattern to the plot.

Mr. Wentworth’s focus on the female characters of the play was really refreshing and certainly came through in his choices. By having a woman, who turns out to be Pericles’ wife, narrate the play as the goddess Diana instead of Gower was inspiring, and added an energy that wouldn’t otherwise be afforded this text. It really turned our attention to the women in Pericles’ life and how his choices affected them as well. The reunion of Pericles and Marina actually had me in tears, and while it was sort of the penultimate reunion, it certainly was the one with the most emotion behind it.

The other highlighted element was the music, which I truly loved. The fact that it was based on a poem and written by Mr. Wentworth’s wife was just delightful, and added this mystical element to the show. Music has this ability to tie all of the ideas of the play together, and create this familiar and unifying element that even aided in the emotional reunion of Pericles and Marina. It was totally unexpected and yet felt completely organic within the play itself.

This is all apart from the incredible acting in this production. This text is not easy, nor is having to play multiple roles throughout the production, and yet it was handled flawlessly. Evan Buliung was amazing as Pericles, and was supported by Debora Hay, Wayne Best and many more in a stellar cast. I cannot wait for the movie version of this production to come out. To have the ability to relive it over and over is thrilling!!

Stratford Festival’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

I was so happy to be back in Stratford again this summer! The Taming of the Shrew holds such a special place in my heart because it was the first Shakespearean show I ever saw, and my first Shakespearean show at the Festival, way back in 2003 and so was one of the reasons that I set my life on a theatrical path. To get to see the show again, as my first performance of the 2015 season, and done in such a beautiful manner was fabulous; I so thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish.

One of the things that I loved right off the bat was that the used the frame narrative that is included in the play, and yet is so often disregarded. And of course, in true Chris Abraham fashion (He’s the director, and one I adore), there was an even outer frame that began the moment we came in and made the frame within the play itself easier to understand. It was so lovely to have the actors breaking the fourth wall before the show and coming around to talk to us. From there, one of the actors played a disruptive audience member, who then becomes the drunkard that the ‘actors’ convince into being their lord and for whom they present the play. It was all so brilliantly done, and made the little scholar in me so happy!

In the outermost frame, where the actual actors were breaking the fourth wall, Tom Rooney gave a little speech about gender and disguise and how they work in this play. I was very happy that they made a point of this for two reasons: 1) it plays into what the next frame deals with and then the subject matter of the play itself, 2) It hearkens back to the way the play would have originally been done, with boys dressed as girls, and this of course also affects Kate’s final speech, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The whole play was done very traditionally, which I certainly appreciate. The stage even looked like the Globe Theatre with its giant red pillars and square thrust stage. The costuming was also very traditional with beautiful ruffs and gorgeous gowns for the ladies. One of the elements I loved the most was the musicians live on stage. They were such a fun element of the play, and completed the traditional feel. It was like they had their own little part in the play, made their own comments through their music, and really were another element of comic relief. I thought it was simply delightful!

Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay played Petruchio and Katarina, and they were both experts at their roles. Deborah was a fierce, forceful and frightening Kate, while Ben’s Petruchio was tough, tempering and (at times) terrible. They were a perfect match. Having seen Deborah play the demure Bianca, it was amazing to watch her be so vicious playing Kate. The two of them were so physical, and that added a whole different element to their relationship, and yet made the taming all the more noticeable. The fact that the two of them are married in real life just added another level to the story that was so rife with frames and layers.

These two were equally matched by the rest of their cast, who performed wonderfully. The whole thing was a joy to watch from start to finish, and that always has to do with the cast as a whole. They brought such life and vivacity to the play, and I didn’t feel like a single person was miscast. It was truly a great deal of fun to experience.

Last, but not at all least, I’d like to talk about Katarina’s final speech. There’s always a great deal of criticism about it because to a modern audience it sounds so patriarchal. And yet I felt like this production handled it in an excellent way. It seemed to me that Kate believed what she was saying wholeheartedly, which I do really like because then the transformation that Petruchio has made, but also that she has made for herself is complete and therefore the ending can be a happy one. During her lessons to the other wives, Kate does make it clear that while you should obey your husband, he should be worthy of the obedience, and while they mere fact that she says to obey them is patriarchal, there is the element of choice, which ads a flair of feminism. But for me, it was the final moments, where she held out her hand to Petruchio, and just before she lets her hand fall, he rushes up to take it. I felt like in that moment, the two of them agreed that their lives were a partnership, and that she isn’t his servant; that as long as she will be faithful to him, so will he to her. While it was only a gesture, and I can’t know if it was meant to have that meaning I endowed in it, but I felt like it was a really great way to deal with what can otherwise be an antiquated and demeaning speech for women.

It’s amazing to get to see a play that you saw when you were much younger. It’s a great way to see how much you’ve grown and how your attitudes have changed and how much more you know. I can’t wait to see what I’ll think of it in another 12 years!


The Taming of the Shrew runs into October! For tickets you can follow the link here: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=29356&prodid=57753

University Players’ “The Nerd”

Okay, so I know this is a long time coming, and no lies, I have very little excuse as to why I haven’t written this review yet. But better late than never!

This experience was very interesting for me, as I got to see the final performance of the final show of the University Player’s season. And while this play was not what I’d call a traditional comedy, it was wonderfully funny, and is well worth seeing if it’s ever on in your area.

The Nerd is the story of a man who for his birthday wants to invite the man who saved his life during the war. However, the guest who arrives to his dinner party isn’t quite who he seems to be. The hilarity that ensues is almost too much to bear! Honestly I thought my sides would split or my lungs would give out I was laughing so hard. The comedy is physical, witty and tension based humour that just had us all on the edge of the seat!

The performances were wonderful. The contrast of characters involved in this play made for easy and hilarious comedy. Everyone’s performances were fabulous, and for Alice Lundy, Andrew Iles and Hailey Joy it was a wonderful show to end their University Player’s careers. Special mention has to go to Isaiah Kolundzic who played Rick Steadman, the ‘war hero,’ the absolute absurdity of his character was amazing, and I honestly had to be talked into the fact that it was Isaiah at all. His mannerisms and characteristics so perfectly contrasted the other characters that I just had to laugh.

I don’t really want to spoil the whole show, because honestly I hope it gets done more, but the end few moments make the whole play worthwhile. I was so disappointed that the couples beside me left at intermission, because they truly missed the punchline of the play! While it’s not all that conventional, it made it all the more fun for me. I love getting to experience new plays, and while I normally like to read the play beforehand, I was so happy to have taken the advice of my friends and just went and experienced it. It made it so much more enjoyable.

I’m looking forward to many new experiences with next year’s UP selections.

“Butterfly” – Shakespeare in Community Assignment #4

Before I talk about how I broke my project, I want to talk a bit about the speech itself.
I chose Helena’s “How happy some o’er other some can be” speech from Act 1 Scene 1. It’s one of my favourites because I think it is one of the most true to life depictions of love in Shakespeare. I feel like Helena because of this speech. It talks about loving and being hurt by that love, and shows that love isn’t totally perfect. She speaks from a place of experience rather than one of innocence. However it does have other interesting qualities that I’d like to discuss.
The most important thing is that it consists of rhyming couplets. This rhyme scheme is generally found in the forest, at first spoken by the fairies and then later by the lovers as they spend more and more time in the forest and under the spells of the fairies. What strikes me as the most odd is that this speech isn’t spoken in the forest at all, it’s well before they all leave, so why is there the rhyme scheme? Is it because she’s speaking about love? Or because this is where the main plan is laid to get all four lovers into the woods?
I feel like she takes a big risk with this speech. She knows that there’s the potential to really hurt her best friend Hermia, but she’s felt so hurt by Demetrius (and therefore Hermia) that it’s worth the risk. And it’s worth the risk for her also to hopefully win back Demetrius’ love.

Butterfly
To destroy this beautiful text, I decided to cut it up, and make it into 4 small origami butterflies. I think of butterflies as the closest thing to fairies that exist, and also something that would exist in the forest which she discusses. I chose to do 4 of them for two reasons: because it forced me to cut up the speech even more, and because it represents the four lovers (even though Lysander isn’t mentioned, he is implied by her talking about “their flight”).

So I started with a printed version of the text, in a font that I thought was beautiful and feminine like Helena herself.

Next I cut the majority of the paper into a large square from which to make the four small ones. The last 4 lines got left on that cut off piece, and so therefore weren’t even a contender in being analysed with the rest of the text.

Here are the four squares all cut up and ready to be folded. As you can see, there are only a few words per sheet, and some of them have even less than others because the lines don’t run to the edge of the page.

And here are the finished products! When I talk about them, the top left is #1, the top right is #2, the bottom left is #3 and the bottom right #4.

#1 only has writing on the right 2 wings. While there aren’t many words that are whole on the page, the one that is is “o’er”, which places that butterfly as the first one of the speech.

#2 It similarly only has writing on the right two wings, but I can’t make out any whole words that help give me any indication of place in the speech.

#3 The left wings this time have the text on it, but the top one hardly has any words at all. However, the word “Cupid” is on the bottom wing, so that gives it a sense of place in the speech “thus is winged Cupid painted blind.”

#4 This one also has the left two wings with text, but it has plenty of text on each one. the words “oft” and “heat” appear in whole. But the butterfly for some reason ended up formed funny (I don’t know what I did wrong).

This method really broke up the text in a funny way, and made it so that I could barely tell what part of the speech it was from. But what I love is how much more text is on the bottom of the butterfly. When you flip them over, they are full of text, but they similarly have broken up words that make it very hard to tell where it’s from.