KW & Beyond
by Irena Syrokomla
King Learat The Festival Theatre
Along with Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, and one of THE PLAYS in English literature one should see at least once in a lifetime. Our community is very fortunate in the close proximity of the Stratford Festival, with its high standard repertoire. This is the 9th presentation of King Lear at Stratford, with past productions featuring such well-known names as William Hutt (1972, 1979 and 1988) Peter Ustinov (1979) Richard Monette himself, Seana McKenna, Christopher Plummer (2002), James Blendick and many others. Some of the productions went on tour to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Palm Beach and Washington (1985 and 2002) while in 1972 the tour travelled around Europe to Copenhagen, Utrecht, The Hague, Warsaw, Moscow and Leningrad. So there is a lot of past history to deal with and maintain. And this production is spectacular!
King Lear has been staged in other theatres and now at The Festival Theatre with its very scarce décor and the stage exposed to the audience on three sides makes the actors more accessible and perhaps more vulnerable. Besides the costumes and nominal props like the throne the actors are positioned in the completely open space, with every gesture, every facial expression visible to everyone. And there is some great acting taking place, as Brian Bedford in the title role (also directing) experiences many stages of change and discovery, his pain and suffering visible to all.
The story of King Lear is about dividing his kingdom among his three daughters – the youngest, Cordelia, receives nothing as she has not satisfied her father’s request to proclaim her undivided love for him – and the consequences of this decision are well known. Two daughters who split the inheritance between them leave the King homeless and deny him even basic respect. In a parallel story, the Earl of Gloucester (Scott Wenthworth) is persuaded by his bastard son that his other son betrayed him and is against him. So he also discards his loyal son. There is a very brutal scene of the Earl of Gloucester having his eyes gouged right on the stage and a moving scene of King Lear wondering aimlessly in a storm at night. Both misguided fathers eventually discover that the children who they turned away are the ones who will care for them and genuinely love them.
It is fascinating to watch the changes occurring in their lives, their transformation from secure and satisfied individuals to desperate and betrayed human wrecks. The acting is incredible, the main actors are well supported by the secondary roles. The Fool, played by Bernard Hopkins, and the only one who can openly contradict the King, is especially worth noticing. As I mentioned the play is directed by Brian Bedford himself, the costumes – all in beautiful muted colours - are designed by Ann Curtis.
A Delicate Balanceby Edward Albee
at Patterson Theatre, Stratford
It must have been in the mid 60’s when I saw a very much acclaimed play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? As I sat somewhere in the last row of the second balcony, not comprehending the nuances of the play, and wondering – along with my companions – how could they be drinking so much and not fall over drunk? Even allowing for mixes and cocktails, the notion of continuous drinking while being able to hold a conversation was astounding. Well, A Delicate Balance brings back memories and the same question of one’s ability to consume numerous drinks and still behave in a reasonable way, as accomplished by most, but not all, of the family members.
Edward Albee wrote A Delicate Balance in 1966 not long after Virginia Wolf and the atmosphere and the premise is also similar. Agnes and Tobias, a couple in their 60’s, upper-middle class Americans, reside together with Agnes’s sister, Claire, who is an alcoholic. The atmosphere is stressful – they exist in a precarious "delicate balance" when they receive the news that their 36 year old daughter Julia is coming home to live with them due to the sudden failure of her fourth marriage. In the 50’s, this was not a common occurrence (returning to live with parents) and causes some stir. At present, such a return to the parental home is more common. Before her arrival a surprising event takes place: their long-term friends suddenly appear at their doorstep seeking accommodation and support. They have experienced some unspeakable terror in their home and cannot live there. All of a sudden there is a crowd of distressed people, each one of them carrying emotional baggage and demanding space, and each one of them in crisis. A very delicate balance is very much disrupted.
The play is a cooker of emotions, every individual is coming with a past and unresolved issues. The actors handle their parts extremely well: Martha Henry as Agnes, Fiona Reid as Claire and Michelle Giroux as Julia. Each one of them achieves an understanding of the depth of her character and is able to project it without pomp or a single artificial gesture. The roles of Edna and Harry (the friends played by Patricia Collins and James Blendick) are also handled very well.
With much less time given to them they present individual characters, clear and unmistakable, but less pronounced. The least developed role is that of Tobias, played by David Fox; whose part was originally planned for William Hutt, and passed to Fox only this spring. The stage set in the Tom Patterson Theatre is worth a comment: the stage space open on three sides, and the actors handling it very well. The dialogues are biting, the atmosphere tense. The director Diana Leblanc deserves accolades for her work.
A Delicate Balance is running at Tom Patterson Theatre only until September 23 and there are not too many performances. It is highly recommended.
King Lear is a great play and a superb production, at The Festival Theatre till October 28 – so there is time to call Stratford box office at 1-800-567-1600 or order your tickets on line at email@example.com.
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