the play's the thing

Yesterday I tried to understand the scripts Stratford was using for its blockbuster 400th birthday celebration of Shakespeare, acknowledging my incompetence at judging the huge amount of work and thought that Graham Abbey, the adaptor, writer, actor, (associate) director, put into them, but nevertheless admitting my disappointment in them. I just want to say that when I or anyone attempts to criticize Stratford , you have to realize we are sitting at the feet of a giant. It's world-class theatre, never forget that. If we are going to criticize or offer any comments at all, we have to remember that we start on a level above that of most of the theatres in the world. We have been spoiled. We take for granted the richness we have been given: set design, costumes, talent, skill, on and on. We assume that actors, all the actors, will not simply recite Shakespeare's poetry, but get inside the hearts and heads of the characters they portray. So we try to understand their interpretation of the characters and their spin on the play in question.

So, though I'm not sure of the spin, I applaud heartily the work the cast of R'n'R has put into it. Geraint Wyn Davies did an outstanding portrayal of Falstaff, although I was sorry to see his lack of pathos at the end. His choice, I guess. I also thought Tom Rooney was excellent as Richard II. I didn't particularly like the casting of several women in men's roles, my bias not theirs. Maybe Stratford ran out of men. (Steven Russell should have taken 3 or 4 curtain calls for all the roles he played.)

The new stage, by the way, at the Tom Patterson Theatre, is a marvel, an almost elliptical theatre in the round surrounding the cast with audience and not a bad angle in the house. It works equally well, if not better, for All My Sons, Arthur Miller's first major play, that introduces another casting approach that underscores the story. Joe Keller's partner, Steve Deever, whom we never see, but who used to live next door, is black. It makes Keller's behaviour even worse. I can't say more for fear of spoilers, even years after the first production. In addition to the overall excellence of the cast, the direction by Martha Henry subtly leads us into pain and compassion.

And that's all I have to say about that.