What to see at the Stratford Festival in 2009

We scanned the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s announcement of its 2009 season with interest. If its 2008 lineup lost a lot of money, as was reported, will the 2009 lineup do better? (See my recent post on the artistic director debacle at the Stratford Festival and what it wrought.)

For Emsworth’s take on the shows the Stratford Festival has just announced for its 2010 season, which include Peter Pan, the musical Evita, and Christopher Plummer in The Tempest, see this post.

More selfishly, how many of the 2009 shows will Emsworth personally want to trek all the way to Stratford, Ontario from Rochester, New York to see? Let us compare this year’s lineup with next year’s (my matchups are arbitrary) and judge:

Hamlet (2008) vs. Macbeth (2009) (both at the Festival Theater)

At the box office, it should be a draw. Hamlet is the world’s best known and most popular play, and Ben Carlson gives a strong performance. (See my review of 2008’s Hamlet.) But Macbeth isn’t nearly as long (or as demanding on audiences), and it has witches, Banquo’s ghost (will we see him, or not?), and moving forests. According to the Stratford Festival, Colm Feore has been cast as Macbeth and Yanna McIntosh as Lady Macbeth. Geraint Wyn Davies will be Duncan; Gareth Potter will play Malcolm; and Sophia Walker will play Lady Macduff.

Will we see the 2009 show? Maybe. Macbeth isn’t very high on our list of favorite Shakespeare plays, but we’d like to see Colm Feore as Macbeth. We hesitate when we see that Des McAnuff is directing 2009’s Macbeth; he made a mess of 2008’s Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet (2008) vs. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2009) (both at the Festival Theater)

The 2009 show should be more attractive to audiences. Both plays appeal to the romantically inclined, but people will expect, and will probably get, crowd-pleasing Lion King-style special effects from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And it’s bound to be better than the 2008 Romeo and Juliet production, which was a dud. See my review. Geraint Wyn Davies has been cast as Bottom and Tom Rooney as Puck (that’s something to anticipate!). Dion Johnstone will be Titania; Sophia Walker will be Hermia; Gareth Potter will be Lysander.

Will we see the 2009 show? We hope so. It’s not our favorite Shakespeare comedy because we don’t get its jokes soon enough to laugh in real time. But we’re ready to give it a chance.

The Taming of the Shrew (2008 at the Festival Theater) vs. Julius Caesar (2009 at the Avon Theater)

The 2009 show will be a better draw. A lot of people know Julius Caesar from school. And it’s better crafted than The Taming of the Shrew, which some people may avoid because they see it as misogynist.  (They shouldn’t miss the Shrew, though — see my review.)  A first-rate cast for Julius Caesar has been announced: the 2008 season’s Hamlet, Ben Carlson, will be Brutus, Jonathan Goad will be Mark Antony, and Tom Rooney, whom we especially liked this year in All’s Well That Ends Well, will be Cassius. Geraint Wyn Davies will be assassinated.

Will I see the 2009 show? For sure. I love Julius Caesar, and I’ve never seen it on stage. But if there’s one Shakespeare play that ought to be at the larger Festival Theater, it’s Julius Caesar.

Update: See Emsworth’s July 2009 review of Julius Caesar at this post.

christopher-plummer-as-cyrano

Christopher Plummer as Cyrano in a 1962 show

All’s Well That Ends Well (2008) vs. Cyrano de Bergerac (by Edmond Rostand) (2009) (both at the Festival Theater)

No clear audience favorite. There have been enough different versions of the Cyrano story over the years that audiences will come, especially to see Colm Feore as Cyrano. But will they come in large enough numbers to fill the Festival Theater?

As for me, my level of interest in Cyrano just isn’t that high. (We liked this year’s All’s Well That Ends Well. See my review.)

Love’s Labour’s Lost (2008) vs. Bartholomew Fair (by Ben Jonson) (2009) (both at the Tom Patterson Theater)

In probable popularity, an edge to 2008. The general public doesn’t know either play, but Shakespeare has more fans than Ben Jonson, and this year’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is a delight.

Will we see Bartholomew Fair? We hope so. Undeterred by an eye-glazing Edward II several years ago, we’d like to try another Elizabethan playwright.

Fuenta Ovejuna (2008) vs. The Three Sisters (2009) (both at the Tom Patterson Theater)

Martha Henry

The 2009 show will draw more. Theater-goers who only want to see “cheerful” plays will steer away from Chekhov. But they’ll see Chekhov before they’ll buy tickets for a 400-year-old Spanish drama they never heard of.

Will we see the 2009 show? Maybe. We saw a remarkably fine production of The Three Sisters at the Shaw Festival several years ago and look forward to seeing the play again sometime. But it may be too soon. It’s been announced that Adrienne Gould, Irene Poole, and Lucy Peacock (as Masha) will appear as the sisters — a promising trio. Kelli Fox, another of our favorites from her days at the Shaw Festival, will play Natasha. Martha Henry will apparently not be acting, just directing. Update (August 2009): In fact, Adrienne Gould is not part of the Stratford company in 2009 after all; Dalal Badr was cast as Irena.

Caesar and Cleopatra (2008) vs. The Importance of Being Earnest (2009) (both at the Avon Theater)

brian-bedford1

Bedford

In probable popularity, an edge to 2009. Sure, Christopher Plummer is a great draw, but who’d want to miss Brian Bedford in drag? Stratford Festival patrons love Oscar Wilde.

As for us, we thought the production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Shaw Festival several years ago couldn’t be improved upon. But we love the play and can’t see it too often. And Bedford slays us.

The Trojan Women (2008 at the Avon Theater) vs. Phedre (by Racine) (2009 at the Tom Patterson Theater)

Jean Racine

The 2009 show may do better. Classical plays have narrow appeal. But one would also guess that interest from French-speaking Canadians would make the Racine play a better draw. And an impressive cast for Phedre has been announced by the Stratford Festival: Seana McKenna as Phedre, and also Tom McCamus, the scrumptious Adrienne Gould, the erstwhile Music Man Jonathan Goad, and Sean Arbuckle. Veteran actress Roberta Maxwell will return to Stratford to play Oenone.

We most definitely want to see Phedre. Our interest in the French classics was whetted long ago by a college course in French literature (in translation), and we are sorry we’ve missed other promising opportunities to see plays by the French master dramatists.

The Music Man (2008 at the Avon Theater) vs. West Side Story (2009 at the Festival Theater)

Two equally popular shows. The Music Man was great, as I reported in this post. But more tickets will be sold for West Side Story in the larger Festival Theater.

We must confess West Side Story leaves us cold, as mentioned in an earlier post praising Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, which is playing at the Shaw Festival this year. But the wife of our bosom is anxious to see it.

Cabaret (2008) vs. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2009) (both at the Avon Theater)

The 2009 musical won’t outdraw Cabaret. We love Sondheim’s A Funny Thing, but Cabaret has been hot on Broadway, in Toronto, and on the movie screen for the last ten years.

We want to see the 2009 show. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a hilariously funny musical with a great score. And we’ll need something lighter after a heavy dose of the classics.

Brian Bedford as King Lear

There Reigns Love (2008) vs. Ever Yours, Oscar (2009) (both at the Tom Patterson Theater)

In probable popularity, an edge to 2009. The combination of Oscar Wilde and Brian Bedford will pull them in.

Will we see the 2009 show? Somehow, we find we don’t go to see performances made up of readings.

Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape (2008) vs. The Trespassers (by Morris Panych) (2009)

Palmer Park (2008) vs. Zastrozzi (by George Walker) (2009)

Moby Dick (2008) vs. Rice Boy (by Sunil Kuruvilla) (2009) (all at the Studio Theater)

In probable popularity, an edge to 2008. People know and like Brian Dennehy (Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape), and everyone’s heard of Melville’s novel. It may be that the three Canadian playwrights scheduled for 2009 have constituencies in Canada, but Americans in general don’t know them.

Will we see any of the 2009 shows at the Studio Theater? Probably not. If so, it might be the Panych play. We’ve seen his work as a director at the Shaw Festival. The Stratford Festival’s affirmative action program for Canadian playwrights is fine, but the Festival should understand that its numerous American patrons don’t care whether a playwright is Canadian or not.

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson

Frankly, looking at the 2009 season as a whole, we don’t see why the management at the Stratford Festival would expect a bigger box office than in 2008. It’s a smart financial decision to put a big musical back in the Festival Theater. And personally, we’re glad to have a chance to see Racine and Ben Jonson. But besides the Shakespeare plays, the only straight play that seems likely to draw full houses is The Importance of Being Earnest.

And we’re disappointed that only three Shakespeare plays will be presented in 2009 — a bit ironic, now that they’ve changed the name to the Stratford “Shakespeare” Festival. We wanted a history play this year, like Richard II or Henry V, and are not mollified by the Festival’s explanation that the two musicals have roots in Shakespeare. That’s weak.

And we’re seriously disappointed that no Shakespeare play is scheduled for 2008 in the Tom Patterson Theater, which is where we like our Shakespeare best.

AUGUST 2009: Emsworth has now seen a number of the shows in the Stratford Festival’s 2009 season and offers the following thoughts about them:

The musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (see this post)

The Ben Jonson play Bartholomew Fair (see this post)

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (see this post)

The folly of suggesting that Shakespeare should be “translated” for modern audiences (see this post)

The marvelous quarrels in Julius Caesar and The Importance of Being Earnest (see this post)

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (see this post)

What P. G. Wodehouse owes to Oscar Wilde (see this post)

The musical West Side Story (see this post)

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s true that the seats at the Tom Patterson can be uncomfortable. And almost by necessity, the sets for shows there are generally pretty sparse. But then that focuses the show all the more on the acting. I like being close to the actors and being able to hear without straining — very important with Shakespeare because there’s so much archaic vocabulary and because Shakespeare’s syntax is so different from what we use.

  2. I think agree with much of what you said. Great comparison of the two seasons. I also find it interested that you enjoy seeing Shakespeare at the Tom Patterson theatre, there aren’t many patrons that enjoy that theatre.
    I would say this year the “don’t miss shows” would be:
    1. Bartholomew Faire
    2. Macbeth
    3. The Importance of Being Earnest
    4. Three Sisters
    5. Zastrozzi
    And for the musical (even though I really don’t like it either) West Side Story but Forum isn’t one to be missed.

  3. I think that you should understand that the Festival’s numberous Canadian patrons will be very interested in plays that are written by Canadian play writes. Do Canadians not have the write to proclaim pride in their artists? The theatre is not just directed at the American public and perhaps some American’s in fact would be interested in plays written by Canadians. It’s a little presumptuous to think that they wouldn’t. There is a lot of unrecognized talent in Canada! Other than that, your comments are appreciated.


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