I’m beginning to plan this summer’s trip to the Stratford and Shaw Festivals in Canada. Visiting these theater festivals is a long-standing tradition for both of Harper’s dads which began before we knew each other. Actually, the Stratford Festival contributed to our meeting. I was living in Michigan. Harper’s Other Dad was living in Chicago. We were both vacationing in Key West. My Stratford Festival t-shirt was a nice ice-breaker. The rest, as they say, is history.
Anyone who’s planned vacation travel knows there are many details; even more when the travel is international. There are plane tickets, and hotel rooms and rental cars. There are restaurant reservations and schedules to coordinate with friends and passports and foreign currency. There is pet boarding and getting someone to water the plants and on and on. But anyone who travels to theater festivals knows that all of these are secondary to the most important task; choosing the plays.
There are always more plays than time and budget permit. Also, as I’ve aged, I find I enjoy the trip more if I pace myself a bit. It would be possible to see 15 or more productions but, by the end of the week, they blur together in memory. Also, after years theater-going, I increasingly find that the bill includes plays I have seen before. In some cases that is a source of great anticipation (see ‘Godot’ below). More often, however, it makes it easier to opt for an afternoon on the wine trail or a leisurely dinner rather than seeing, yet another production of ….
At the Shaw Festival this year we hope to see 5 plays.
Our Betters – by W. Somerset Maugham (1923)
I don’t know this play but it sounds interesting. The synopsis compares it to Downton Abbey. I liked Maugham’s novels; The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage when I read them decades ago. A few years ago I saw an opera based on his short story; The Letter. The Letter was also famously adapted as a film starring Bette Davis. Another reason this play made the list is because it is directed by Morris Panych. I have enjoyed his work, as a writer and as a director, in the past.
Major Barbara – by George Bernard Shaw.
I have seen this play before though I’ve never read it. It is classic Shaw. Candidly, it was not at the top of my ‘must see’ list but we are traveling to The Shaw Festival so it is only proper that we see some Shaw. This production is directed by Jackie Maxwell who never disappoints.
Arcadia – by Tom Stoppard (1993)
This was near the top of the ‘must see’ list. I am a Stoppard fan. I’ve read the play and I saw a community-theater production of it about 10 years ago. I have never seen it done professionally however.
Faith Healer – by Brian Friel (1979)
This is another play that will be new to me. A contemporary Irish playwright, Friel is best known, at least in the States, for his award-winning, Dancing at Lughnasa. This is an earlier work.
Trifles – (“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell (1916) and “A Wife for a Life” (1913) by Eugene O’Neill)
One of my favorite features the Shaw Festival’s season each year is their “Lunch-time One-Acts” series. It was in this series, last year, that I saw Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. This season’s series includes two short plays performed together. I am not familiar with Ms. Glaspell nor her work so this will be new. “A Wife for a Life” was O’Neill’s first play. It will be interesting to see an early work.
The five plays we hope to see at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this season should be a great mix of theater experiences.
Waiting For Godot – by Samuel Beckett (1953)
This play tops my ‘must see’ list any time it is offered. This is the 5th time in it’s 60 seasons that the Festival has staged ‘Godot’. The last time was in 1998 which I still remember as one of my favorite theater experiences in the years I’ve gone to Stratford. This production is directed by Jennifer Tarver who has contributed some of the most interesting and edgy productions the Festival has staged in recent years. I can’t wait!
Blithe Spirit – by Noël Coward (1941)
It will be wonderful to see a high-quality, professional production of this comedy. It will be equally wonderful to hear the line :”Tell the silly old bitch to mind her own business!’ uttered by someone other than Harper’s Other Dad.
Measure For Measure – by William Shakespeare (1603)
It’s not a Shakespeare Festival without a little Shakespeare. M4M, (that’s Measure For Measure, in this case) has been described as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because, while technically a comedy, it has elements of dark drama. We will probably only be able to see one Shakespeare play on this trip. I am glad it will be this one.
Mary Stuart – by Friedrich Schiller (1800)
I’ve never seen this play. The historical context is certainly familiar. I read the play (in German, thank-you-very-much!) in college. Earlier this season, the Met performed Donizetti’s opera, Maria Stuarda, which is based on Schiller’s play. As history it is both fictionalized and revisionist. As drama it has everything one would hope for, including two of my favorite actors from previous seasons.
Taking Shakespeare – by John Murrell (2011)
Contemporary Canadian playwright John Murrell wrote this two-person play with one of this production’s stars, Martha Henry, in mind. It is the story of a college professor tutoring a student in Shakespeare’s Othello. I have enjoyed many wonderful moments in the theater thanks to Ms. Henry’s talents as an actor and director. It will be great to see her on the stage again and it is always exciting to see a new play.
The Festival is performing Othello this season as well. Taking Shakespeare may tempt me to add it to the roster. I shall endeavor to remain disciplined, however. Ten plays in 8 days should be enough for even the most hard-core theater junky. Although, if we got up earlier and drove a little faster and skipped lunch and……