This is an annual pilgrimage, the first trip of the new season to Stratford, my traditional early June journey to Bill's grave to plant geraniums. Very late this year, of course, because I didn't get back to Canada until July 8. The geraniums were a little tired but I think they'll do all right. I'll check back later because I will return.
The pilgrimage spans the summer, numerous trips to take in all the productions at the Festival that I want to see. Yesterday I saw SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, directed by Martha Henry, who is not quite as old as I am (she's only 77), but like me, she must have seen a few productions of Goldsmith's play in her time. This one was enjoyable, quite pleasant. I mean, what's not to like about Goldsmith? The script is considered a classic by now: age- and actor-proof. Most competent, charming actors can handle it at a trot. The set was charming, by a designer new-to-me because I haven't paid attention. Douglas Paraschuk is in his 26th season at Stratford. Shame on me for not noticing.
Martha Henry has always been a favourite of mine and goes back a long way. I first saw her on the stage at the Manitoba Theatre Centre (now Royal), starring in THE LADY'S NOT FOR BURNING under her maiden name, Buhs. She was among the first graduates of the new National Theatre School and came to Manitoba to work in John Hirsch's new Young Company. She married Donnelly Rhodes Henry, son of Ann Henry, a Winnipeg newspaper columnist and sometime playwright. Martha took her stage name from her first husband and became Martha Henry for posterity, while Donnelly went on into television, mainly, as Donnelly Rhodes. How many people remember that? Martha is, as you all know, a beloved Canadian actress and was recently honoured with the The Stratford Festival Legacy Award as well as the Governor General's Lifetime Achievement Award. I couldn't afford to go to a $1000-a-plate celebration in her honour (my cruise expenses drained me), but I sent her a fan letter. She directs as well, at Stratford and elsewhere, and for many years has been the director of The Birmingham Conservatory, the Stratford institution designed to train and hone new actors coming into the Festival regime. I love her acting, and usually get new insights into the roles she plays.
I am not quite so assured about her direction. The set pieces in STOOPS did not achieve for me the silly delight I usually take in them. The funny people were not very funny, rather wooden and playing to a different sense of humour. I don't think it was their fault. It was the direction. Not to say the production was not enjoyable; it was. But I woke this morning realizing what had been missing. And not that I don't still admire Martha Henry for I do. If anything I'm grateful that I can still have some perspective about an icon.
Still, flowers for the living, as Nellie McClung would say. My husband admired Martha Henry above any actress he knew. Flowers for both of them.