Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Friday, August 5, 2016

Stratford Sundries, 2016-5

City Hall
Stratford, Ont.,
Aug. 2016
Balzac’s Coffee, 10:35 a.m.

1. Yesterday evening we took a long, hot walk along the little Avon River to the Festival Theatre, where we saw the most enjoyable production we’d seen this year—a new translation of (and imagination of) Molière's 1670s comedy The Hypochondriac. We've seen the play before--at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, November 2012 under a differently translated title, The Imaginary Invalid.

It’s the story of a man (brilliantly portrayed by Stratford veteran Stephen Oiumette) who has found a kind of comfort in being ill—desperately so, he tells all—when in truth there’s nothing at all wrong with him. He has tons of money, a much younger wife who has married him recently to acquire that money, a young daughter he wishes to marry to a physician so that he can get free treatment (he’s rich, but cheap), a brother (played by the gifted Ben Carlson) who knows he’s feigning illness, a physician who treats him with every sort of enema—regularly (oh, is there bathroom humor in this show!)—an eager suitor for the daughter (she’s eager for him, as well), and a bizarrely foolish suitor (a young idiot about to become a doctor), a wonderful carping maid, and on and on.

Everyone in this production—from Oiumette to people who popped in only momentarily (and perhaps silently) were perfect. We laughed ourselves silly throughout even when the humor was profoundly, uh, scatological.

Our long walk back to the room seemed as brief as that candle Macbeth had alluded to earlier in the afternoon when he was talking about the brevity of life itself. Our gusts of words filled our sails, all the way back to the inn. Where we talked a lot more. We seemed to have arrived by magic ...

2. This morning … the usual. Coffee, breakfast, reading, and talk, talk, talk. At 9:30, Joyce went off to one of the Festival’s “Forum” events, this one featuring … Stephen Oiumette. In the middle of a book and aswirl in thoughts about things to write, I stayed behind and read and wrote. Joyce, just back, loved the session (a Q & A with him). And we are sitting now at Balzac’s Coffee. I’m listening to her excitement, growing excited myself. And wishing I'd gone with her ...

Soon … Time for lunch … And a matinee performance of Shakespeare in Love, a stage version of that hit film from 1998.

Mercer Hall Inn, 6:00 p.m.

1. After lunch, we rested a bit before heading down to the Avon Theatre, an easy walk (whew), a more traditional proscenium theater, to see, as I said, Shakespeare in Love, which, I will now confess, I wasn't all that crazy to see. I figured it would be some half-lame adaptation of that Tom Stoppard script from that film (which I'd loved back in 1998, by the way).
But--put simply, plainly--I was wrong. Absolutely wrong. This was one of the very best productions we've seen up here in the fifteen years (consecutive) that we've been coming. Both of us were weeping like--well, like people profoundly moved. Which we were.

For those who don't remember--Shakespeare in Love is the story of the writing of Romeo and Juliet (and we know pretty much nothing about the actual story of that play's composition). We see young Shakespeare in London, learning his craft; we see his friendship with Christopher Marlowe, born the same year as the Bard but already a success in playwriting; we see him falling in love with a woman above his station--Viola--a woman who adores poetry, adores Shakespeare's writing, adores the man who wrote those words, although she's never seen or met him (and can never, given the social restrictions of the time, be with him); we see how an Elizabethan theater company mounts a show; we see the boys dressing as girls for the show; etc. etc. etc.

Most powerfully, we see how Shakespeare mined his own experience for the gold of the story--and how he learned from Marlowe, how he let his passion be the kindling of his creation. Everyone in the show was wonderful, but especially the principals, Will and Viola, whose lives and love, in ways, become those of Romeo and Juliet.

There is terrific humor and good fun in the script (a dog runs out a couple of times to surprise us with something he's learned to do); the stagecraft is peerless (am I sounding excessive yet? Yes? Good!). Before us rises the multi-level wooden framework resembling that of an Elizabethan playhouse, a framework that moves up- and downstage (allowing the audience to go both backstage and to be in the position of the fictional audience), a framework that can become other places and things as well (at one point, the railing for a ship). My jaw done stayed dropped much of the time.

The script is a wonder. Lines (and snippets thereof) from other Shakespeare plays and sonnets come from the mouths of the characters in ordinary conversation, so we see the source for what will follow later in his career.

And--key: Sonnet 18--"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"--echoes through the script like a musical motif. We see Shakespeare writing it (with Marlowe's help); we hear Viola recite it in toto; it comprises some of the music (all on period instruments--and a wonderful counter-tenor sang a version of it with the others).

That sonnet is the first I ever memorized--the first I ever asked my students to memorize; I have recited it to Joyce countless times. (Can you see now why I was weeping this afternoon?)

When the play ended, the cast came out and danced a jig--just as they would've done in an Elizabethan playhouse.

Making me even more of a wreck.

A story of love, of creation, of needing others, of others needing you, of experience and how it flows with the power of a subterranean torrent through the work of artists of all sorts.

Joyce and I both stood for this one.

Lordy. We have see two great plays in the last twenty-four hours.

2. Little supper at our York Street Kitchen. A stop at Bradshaw's, a great cooking store, where I popped for yet another clay baking pot. And back to the room to relax a bit, finish this post ...

And tonight we'll head back to the Avon Theatre for Sondheim's A Little Night Music ...

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