stratford 2016

“…our own reality, like Kemeid’s text, remains ambiguous and undecided.” Aeneid at Stratford.

Reviewed by Yana Meerzon

First published in, September 13,  2016.

In today’s political, economic and social climate, with mass migration turning into a new norm, it is impossible not to think of Olivier Kemeid’s dramaturgy as farsighted and foretelling. The Quebecois playwright published L’Eneide, his dramatic adaptation of Virgil’s poem, in 2008 before the current migration crisis. Yet with its tenacious questioning of the potential impact of the presence of new immigrants on the rapidly changing western world, Kemeid’s adaption of Virgil’s The Aeneid becomes tremendously urgent. Through its poetic language, stylized movement and surrealist imagery, both Kemeid’s text and director Keira Loughran’s production speak of migration in historical and philosophical terms, aiming for a deeper understanding of the encounter between ordinary people (migrants) and nation-states.


John Gabriel Borkman: two stellar acting performances highlight Stratford’s Ibsen revival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou

STRATFORD, Ont. —  Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman can be a tricky play to bring off.

We might assume that its main focus is the title character — a disgraced banker who has gone to prison for his misdeeds and later, in the confinement of his house, endlessly paces his upper-floor retreat while consoling himself with futile dreams of a return to public favour. But we assume wrong. Borkman’s plight may seem to be an attention-getting dramatic  situation — but not when it’s trumped by the powerhouse roles that  Ibsen has written for two women.

One is Borkman’s long-suffering wife, Gunhild, played with soured intensity by Lucy Peacock. The other is her formidable twin sister, Ella. She is Borkman’s ex-mistress, and she’s dying of a terminal illness. Yet, in Seana McKenna’s gripping performance, she is displaying her own steely fortitude and determination.


Stratford tackles Quebec dramatist’s take on The Aeneid — with mixed results

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou. The Aeneid, adapted by Olivier Kermeid.

STRATFORD, Ont. — It’s the intimate moments that have the most profound  impact in The Stratford Festival’s production of Quebec playwright Olivier Kemeid’s The Aeneid .

We’re dealing with the refugee crisis here. So we have this scene where a  mother, in anguish over the loss of her own child,  spots an infant  among her fellow fugitives  and picks him up — refusing to relinquish him to his father, Aeneas, the central figure in this ambitious retelling of Virgil’s poem.

A sequence like this defines the terrible reality of the refugee experience. But ultimately it’s the way it moves from the universal to the particular that gives it such   tragic intimacy. As the grieving mother, Lanise Antoine Shelley is lacerating in her display of a ravaged soul. But then the intervention of the woman’s husband, portrayed with compelling power by Rodrigo Beilfuss, again pierces the heart: please, he asks Aeneas, allow this poor woman to pretend at least for a time that this is her own child she’s holding.


Stratford serves up a bowel-obsessed version of Moliere.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: David Hou  Stephen Ouimette as Argon.

Le Medecin Malgré lui (The Hypochondriac) by Molière. In a new version by Richard Bean from a literal translation by Chris Campbell, directed by  Antoni Cimolino

STRATFORD, Ont. —  Initially, nothing much seems to be happening when the lights go up on the stage of the Festival Theatre. There’s just Argon, this bedraggled creature in a grubby nightgown, painstakingly going through a pile of papers that turn out to be bills for medical treatment. But as Argon goes through these documents,  on occasion almost fondling them with indecent affection, it becomes clear that these billings are mainly in the service of one  preoccupation — the state of his bowels.

By this time we should also be conscious that he’s enthroned on a commode, intent on passing a stool while he does his paperwork. Indeed, it won’t be long before he’s checking its contents — and this very act signals rapture more than than it does revulsion.

We’re also becoming conscious of veteran actor Stephen Ouimette’s brilliant way of  using detail — the tiniest of detail — as his building blocks. It’s his way of bringing to life the character of the vain, ludicrously self-absorbed Argon in the Stratford Festival’s production of The Hypochondriac.


The Stratford Festival’s Bunny has sex on her mind.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Bunny – On The Run 2016

Photo: David Hou. Maev Beaty and David Patrick Flemming.

STRATFORD, Ont. — Hanna Moscovitch’s new play, Bunny, had its world premiere at the Stratford Festival the other afternoon — and this was a cue for theatre staff to go all cutesy for the occasion by wearing rabbit ears on their heads.

Given that we were definitely not in for a cosy afternoon of G-rated entertainment in the company of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, it was more than a little bizarre to be confronted by ticket takers decked out like participants in a kiddies’ picnic. Or perhaps this was intended as some sort of ironic statement on the numerous sexual couplings we would soon be witnessing in the intimacy of the festival’s tiny Studio Theatre.

“Let me tell you about Sorrel,” announces Maev Beaty, the resourceful actress who will be guiding us through this saga of unquenchable sexuality and unfulfilled needs. Beaty is actually portraying Sorrel herself, although the script requires her to discuss her character in the third person. And Sorrel’s nickname is “Bunny” — hence the title — and that comes from that frightened rabbit-in-the-headlights look she gets when she’s in situations where her lack of social skills leaves her unable to cope.


Stratford Embraces the Supernatural in Macbeth

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Macbeth – On The Run 2016

Photo: David Hou. Ian Lake as Macbeth

Macbeth directed by Antoni Cimolino

The supernatural is eerily alive and well in the Stratford Festival’s new production of Macbeth. But those who submit to its allure are fallibly, destructively human.

In our own age, this youthful Macbeth and his lady would probably worship social media and be dangerously susceptible to its excesses and its mistruths. Stratford’s revival may be very much in period, but a similar dynamic can still apply, even in 11th Century Scotland. This Macbeth may be a hero on the battlefield but he’s also a product of his times. In his world, ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night are not an unnatural phenomenon. So, if he is dangerously ambitious, why shouldn’t he prepared to listen to the Weird Sisters and heed their prophecies of a great future for him?


Arthur Miller’s All My Sons Triumphs at Stratford

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 All My Sons – On The Run 2016  Photo: David Hou.Lucy Peacock as Kate Keller and Joseph Ziegler as Joe Keller. 

There was a time when Arthur Miller’s 1947 play, All My Sons, was undervalued, its reputation eclipsed by the
subsequent triumphs of Death Of A Salesman and The Crucible.

Perhaps today’s troubled times have contributed to its renewed stature. Or perhaps its simply benefiting from a more aware perception of what it’s really about. One strength of Martha Henry’s marvellous new production at the Stratford Festival rests in its subtle power in examining the often elusive nature of guilt. This sterling revival provides a textbook example of how to realize the dramatic potential of the familiar theme of the sins of the father being visited on future generations. But Henry and her cast are also going for something particularly unsettling here — the conundrum of the once decent human being who commits a terrible act.


Shakespeare In Love is Fun — But Should It Be Happening at Stratford?

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Shakespeare in Love – On The Run 2016

 Photo: David Hou.  Luke Humphrey (left) as Will Shakespeare and Stephen Ouimette as Henslowe

The first point to be made about the stage version of Shakespeare In Love is that will give a great deal of legitimate satisfaction to a great many theatregoers.

The second point is that any claim to its being a true Stratford Festival “production” seems dubious.

It may be a sound money-making move to include this shamelessly commercial stage adaption of the Oscar-winning movie in a festival season. It also may seem a little crass and opportunistic — especially given that this is a 400th anniversary year that should surely be taken seriously by an organization of Stratford’s international prestige.

At the same time, it would be unfair to dismiss Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of the original screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman as some kind of hack job. Hall is a respected British dramatist, a former writer-in-residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a solid output that includes the 2008 stage success, The Pitmen Painters, and the award-winning book for Billy Elliott: The Musical.


Past Reviews