Major Apologies and an Update

Hi, guys! You might have noticed that we haven’t updated in a long while. We said we’d finish reviewing our Stratford shows… and then we didn’t. Please forgive me.

Obviously, there are issues in the world of Cactus. I feel like we’re too much in a holding pattern with Mercutio right now to really chat about anything. And there was a miscommunication between us as to who was going to post the next reviews because of how the schedule up in Stratford and rushing shows worked out, which stretched into a month (and more) of no updates. Basically, we never solved that issue even though we thought we had, and then days turned into weeks, and… well, you know. Unfortunately, the world we live in is one in which paying bills must come first, and the blog is not going to do that for us. It’s an enjoyable thing, of course, and we love talking to you guys about books and Shakespeare and writing, but needs must.

I am going to post reviews on Coriolanus and Julius Caesar early next week. Yes, even a month later, I still have plenty to say about them, and–for Coriolanus at least–I still have a TON OF HYPE. I begged A so hard, we ended up rushing this incredibly intense–INTENSE–play rather than seeing The Music Man again. She is truly a wonderful and patient friend. And once I get those done, I should be able to poke her to do the other two plays we saw: To Kill a Mockingbird and An Ideal Husband. (She’s going to have things to say about accents in BOTH of them. The former made me bawl, though. And I was going to fight a bitch if Scout didn’t come out dressed as ham. She did. There was no fighting that evening.)

On a personal front, I have finished the first round of edits on Liar! YAY ME.

 

colbert-kermit

 

It’s completely covered in red ink, to the point that I think I used up the pen. I don’t know if y’all remember the red ink all over Killing Mercutio, but this draft was 60k words shorter than that one, and I used up just as much ink. Weirdly enough, this draft was cleaner than Mercutio. I mostly just thought up funnier jokes as I was editing. That’s not to say there weren’t sections I decided to change because I came up with something more satisfying, but the draft was really good as it stood. I’m just really hard on my drafts.

No news on the Mercutio front, by the way. We’re waiting on word back from a full request and continuing to create a list of agents to query should we need to keep going. I feel like we’ve finally hit on the story/genre designation that works best and gives agents the best idea of what to expect, so that should help. The constant tinkering and making things better is all we can do, right?

Also, if anyone is doing NaNo next month, I’m The Lady C.

I’ll see y’all early next week!

C

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Stratford 2018 Update #1

It’s here-the first round of Nerd Cactus Stratford reviews for 2018!!!

So far, the verdict is “amazing with a heavy smattering of fun.” Of course, it will get much darker from here…

See, we started with the light, frothy shows, but we’re about to dive into the heavy stuff. Yesterday we saw The Music Man and The Tempest (incidentally, the two shows I covered in our pre-Stratford ramp up). Both were wonderful, high-quality, visually stunning shows (as expected) and both were over too quickly. (Which is probably why we thought today was still Tuesday?)

 

The Music Man

To begin, let’s take a closer look at Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. As I mentioned, this musical is nothing if not charming, and it’s so full of heart, joy, and sticky, sappy nostalgia that even the most miserable of misers can’t help but feel their hearts melt.

Donna Feore’s direction is solid, but it’s her choreography that truly shines. Her high-energy approach to numbers like “Shipoopi,” “76 Trombones,” and even “Marian the Librarian” is breathtaking. As a matter of fact, just watching “76 Trombones,” left me exhausted. I felt winded in the best way ever. Seriously. And kudos to Devon Michel Brown for performing 4 backflips and a front flip over the course of the show.

The cast is led by Daren A. Herbert and Danielle Wade in the roles of Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, but the brilliant supporting cast doesn’t really need to be led. There is so much kinetic energy onstage that it is impossible to pick out a “weak link.” The ensemble of agile dancers consistently hams it up, but if there’s any place for “golly gee” smiles, this is it. And it works.

Herbert is loveable yet sly and Wade’s rich soprano has surprising depth even in her highest register. Steve Ross and Blythe Wilson as Mayor Shinn and his eccentric wife Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn are the perfect comedic duo, providing unexpected laughs and well-timed schtick that doesn’t actually feel “schticky.”

All told, we were all smiles from start to finish and loved pretty much everything about this production. We were hardpressed to find something that didn’t play well or that we downright disliked. The cast was well-balanced, the costumes were beautiful, the music was brilliant, and the choreography was engaging. Oh, and the horse in “The Wells Fargo Wagon” was a piece of theatre magic that actually confused us into thinking there was a live horse on stage. (Albeit for a very brief minute.)

 

The Tempest

Our Tuesday evening show was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In Stratford’s version, Prospero was presented as a woman, brilliantly performed by Martha Henry. I think Martha Henry is one of the most convincing Shakespearean actors I have ever seen on stage. I understood every line of her dialogue. Beyond Shakespeare’s words, Henry brought deliberate inflection, movement, action, and subtext to the stage in spades.

The other standout in this cast was undeniably Andre Morin’s Ariel. Clad in costuming that alludes to his previous sentence trapped in a tree, his take on the spirit was nimble and efficient. Rather than play the character as mischievous or brooding, Morin tempered his longing for freedom with a genuine concern for his mistress and a need to please.

Beyond the strength of the cast and their excellent execution of Antoni Cimolino’s direction, The Tempest dazzles with its lighting design and costume design. From floating planets to shimmering lights encompassed in the gnarled roots of Prospero’s cell, the lighting in this show is pretty magical. And the costuming was just gorgeous. From Juno’s peacock costume to Caliban’s incredible half-fish deformity and Ariel’s outfit of bark, the stage was filled with the fantastic. But my favorite thing is ever is Prospero’s magic robe which incorporates pieces of the robes worn by every other Prospero in the Stratford Festival’s history. Beyond that, it contains material from the dress Martha Henry wore when she played Miranda during the 1962 festival season as well as pieces of the original tent in which Stratford’s plays were first performed. How cool is that??

That’s all for now! Coriolanus is on the agenda for tonight and we’ll see An Ideal Husband and To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow, so expect more soon!

-A

 

 

 

Boozy Plays: The Tempest

To thee and thy company I bid a hearty welcome.

-The Tempest

Hello, and welcome! ‘Tis time for a little Shakespeare-inspired boozin’.

So, something just occurred to me: in all our years of Boozy Books/Plays and attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, C and I have never partaken in any of the drinks we recommend during our viewings. We didn’t even play the Hamlet drinking game. (You know the one… Take a shot every time someone dies? Yes, you do.) Anyway, despite being pretty consistent enablers, we are very bad boozers.

The problem is that we want to remember and engage in the experience of the play. Getting drunk is decidedly hindering in that respect. Maybe if we rush a second viewing of Coriolanus we can discuss having a few glasses of Syrah. (Except C isn’t a wine drinker… That’s ok, I’ll drink hers.)

Anyway, tangent aside, it’s time to dive into The Tempest.

I’ve mentioned this before but did you know that Teller (of Penn and Teller) choreographed the magic for a production of The Tempest in 2014? Also, Tom Waits did the music for that production. And the acrobatics were by Pilobolus. I’m not saying I don’t foresee excellence from the Stratford production, but damn. They better step it up, amiright? (I’m so kidding. I just needed a place to create a backlink to one of our older posts. Because SEO.)

So, yes, if it isn’t already apparent, magic and music are a big deal in The Tempest. I covered that in Monday’s post so I won’t linger on that point any longer. By now, you get it. One hopes.

The Tempest opens with a storm – the eponymous tempest – and some quick n’ dirty exposition. Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded on an island for 12 years. Why? Because Prospero was a Duke and his brother was a Dick. You know, ye olde jealous sibling trope.

While on his lonely island, Prospero came to command a “spirit” named Ariel and Caliban, the deformed son of an evil (albeit dead) witch. To be honest, most of Prospero’s magic seems to lie in his control of these characters. Ariel, in particular, handles much of the actual hocus pocus (things like creating the storm, putting people to sleep with magical sleepytime music, and scaring said people by appearing as an angry harpy). Both of these characters are locked in servitude to Prospero, and long for freedom. But they’re not portrayed as human, so does anyone care? Yes. Shakespeare cares.

In fact, The Tempest is thought to have been a commentary on colonialism, presenting the complex and problematic relationship of the “well-meaning” and “much advanced” colonizer and the “savage” colonized. Prospero has not only stolen Caliban’s rulership of the island, but he has also leveraged his rescue of Ariel to keep the spirit in his employ with the carrot of freedom always dangling just out of reach. Of course, Ariel is eventually promised his freedom as the play wraps up, but it’s never exactly clear what Caliban’s fate is. Is he left on the island to take his rightful place as ruler, or is he taken back to Naples to become a sideshow novelty? One hopes the former.

As for plot, there are three. Because interweaving stories was Shakespeare’s specialty (and a great way to appeal to as many people in the audience as possible). In one, we have the romantic plotline. Prospero encourages the match between his daughter and Ferdinand, prince of Naples. The goal is to reinstate his daughter into her rightful place as a noble. Plot number two is the rise and fall of Caliban’s doomed coup. He also discovers alcohol and falls in love(?) with Stephano and Trinculo. Plot three is Antonio and Sebastian’s plan to kill King Alonso and his advisor, Gonzalo.

The play ends with an implied wedding, forgiveness, and freedom (for Ariel at least). Prospero, finally on his way back to civilization, has no further need of magic, so he breaks his staff and renounces his powers. I mean, I wouldn’t… but you do you Prospero.

And, now, a drink! I feel that this needs something tropical with a chunk of dry ice. It’s a little on the nose, but I make no apologies. So, the drink to drink in this case is something called “rock out with your conch out,” which is just a crazy ridiculous beautiful-looking cocktail served in a freakin’ conch shell. It’s made with a blend of rums, pineapple, pomegranate, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and falernum. And a chunk of dry ice to create that magical fog.

Enjoy!

A

The Tempest: Magic, Manipulation, and Music

Hey there! Welcome to today’s exploration of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

*But first, let me give you a brief rundown of the filmed versions of The Music Man. (This was supposed to go up on Saturday, but a 9 mile hike kinda put a damper on productivity.)

There’s no more definitive version of The Music Man than the 1962 film starring Robert Preston. I also alluded to the 2003 tv-movie version in my earlier Music Man post, and it’s certainly a gem with stars like Matthew Broderick, Kristen Chenoweth, Molly Shannon, and Victor Garber.

You can also watch an absurd animated version of Shipoopi, courtesy of Family Guy.

Ok, that’s done. Now, on to the magic, manipulation, and music of The Tempest.

Written between 1610 and 1611, The Tempest is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote on his own. It’s also rather different from his earlier works in its overall style. More than any other one of Shakespeare’s works, The Tempest follows a neoclassical structure that is informed by the tradition of tragicomedy and the courtly masque. (Cue Ben Jonson laughing from beyond the grave.)

Interestingly, The Tempest’s use of magic is in complete opposition to the darker tones found in Macbeth and Hamlet, and returns to the whimsy found in the much earlier Midsummer Night’s Dream. Given James I’s propensity for witch hunts and his general paranoia toward the occult at this time, The Tempest is remarkable in that it doesn’t follow the “give the monarchy what they want” mentality that influenced the creation of so many of Shakespeare’s earlier plays.

That aside, the magic of The Tempest is remarkable in its usage because its only purpose is to forward a singular goal for Prospero – manipulating Antonio and Alonso, and restoring Miranda to her rightful place as a Duchess of Milan. Once Prospero sees his daughter married to Ferdinand and forgives his brother, he renounces magic. It’s as though magic is intrinsically tied to life on the island – a mere byproduct of having been deserted and a means to return to civilized life. The mischief and manipulation associated with Prospero’s magic also disperses as the play’s conclusion falls in line with the typical format of a comedy. Everything ends rather neatly as the characters return to realism (and Naples).

I think one of the aspects I’m most excited to see in Stratford’s production is the interpretation of music. The Tempest, as written, incorporates quite a bit of song. From Caliban’s drunken singing to Ariel’s magical sleepytime music, there are lots of moments in which music and magic intermingle. Stratford has always impressed me with their incorporation of music, so I’m excited to see how they handle both music and magic in this production.

That’s all for now! I’ll put together a Boozy Plays post for Friday in which I’ll explore the plot a little more deeply, and provide a pairing that’s nothing short of magical.

A

The Fourth Annual Goodtime Bestie Theater Vacay! (aka StratFest 2018)

Heyo, everyone! Welcome to this year’s ramp-up to our annual trip to Stratford, Ontario for the Stratford Festival. For those of you new to the blog (hi!), or not necessarily new but weren’t with us last year, this is how we prepare for our theatrical experience:

Monday- Introduce a play we’ll be seeing by saying something (hopefully) interesting about it.

Friday- Pair the play.

Saturday- Suggest performances of the play that are available via streaming, Blu-Ray, etc.

Sunday- Something silly about the play. (Though this year, we might forgo this particular venture rather than scour the internet for something sillier about Coriolanus than the name of the play, aka The Anus Play.)

As A is on vacation currently (yes, both of us pretty much went on back-to-back vacations before Stratford. We are young. Who needs to save for retirement?), I’ll be starting first and–depending on her wishes–perhaps doing the first two weeks while she finishes out with the final two. I’m not sure which plays she’s elected to do (one hopes for The Tempest, at the very least), but I have claimed historian’s prerogative and selected Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. Because it’s Rome.

I love Rome.

First up, I want to do Coriolanus. And I want to talk about the historical nature of the play, such as it is. The play, like most anything Shakespeare wrote set in and around the world of the Roman Republic/Empire, is at best loosely historical (Shakespeare was a firm believer in story-first historical fiction), with Titus Andronicus being entirely fictional and Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra more clearly reflecting historical facts. Coriolanus, however, is a much more… interesting play, at least with regards to historical accuracy. This is because, while it follows the historical sources somewhat closely (i.e. Plutarch and possibly even Livy), we actually have to question the historical sources themselves.

Oh, yes. This is happening.

When people talk about the sacking of Rome, they’re usually talking about Alaric’s sack in 410AD. But the history of Rome is actually book-ended by devastating sacks about 800 years apart. The earlier sack occurred round about 390BC (this is dependent, in many ways, on which dating system was used in each source. Livy used Roman dating, Polybius used Greek, etc etc.) following the disastrous Battle of the Allia, in which the Senones (a Gallic tribe) just whupped the Roman Republic and proceeded to sack the city itself. It devastated the Romans, who if nothing else, never actually believed they would lose, and instilled a centuries-long terror of the Gauls that was only really put to rest with Julius Caesar’s victory over Vercingetorix. Someone had penetrated their walls. Someone had pillaged their city. Wounded their own sense of invulnerability (especially since they’d had to *gasp* BUY OFF the enemy to leave them alone).

More importantly, it destroyed their records. There is some debate as to whether the city itself was ever burned or destroyed (archaeological debates are the best kinds of debates, people. Everyone brings their ceremonial whip and fedora and it gets dirty), but records were absolutely lost.

Have you ever noticed how early Roman history reads more like myth than history? Romulus literally disappears in, like, a whirlwind and ascends to the heavens as a god. The next couple of kings conveniently represented the piousness and craftiness of Rome (while Romulus represents the pinnacle of Rome), then all the kings get conveniently awful so the Romans are justified in overthrowing them. Tons of battles are won by the valor of a single man. And lots of Romans conveniently mirror their Greek counterparts. Basically, it reads like a narrative constructed with a very specific theme in mind: Roman greatness.

And what does this mean for good ol’ (not-so-good) Coriolanus? It means we have to take the very sources Shakespeare used–the sources the Romans themselves constructed in the aftermath of the Gallic sack, determined to create a thematic narrative–with a hole bag full of salt. Shakespeare actually changed a relatively small amount of the sources he borrowed from (names, a couple details, a more definitive end only hinted at, etc), but he took them at face value. This is the right of any historical fiction writer, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fictional interpretation. It isn’t history. Sometimes, sources have an agenda. In this case, Rome wanted to create a through-line between its founding through to the Republic and the Gallic sack.

Funnily enough, not long after this, when the sources were much more definitive, Rome decided that they were no longer living in the ‘golden age’, when men were men and a man’s word was his bond. Rome had a relationship between martial and pious that was pretty uniquely Roman, and the parts of their history they were able to reconstruct tended to align all their heroes in perfect unity with these ideals. Coriolanus, then, is a representation of a perfect fall from grace and redemption from the ideal Roman man. He is anti-populist (at a time only shortly after Rome had shucked off the monarchical yoke) and turns against Rome due to his arrogance but is ultimately unable to let it be destroyed (conveniently through the purity of Roman women, but that’s another story for another time), like a true Roman man.

And, of course, the play is set in a time when fear of the Volscians was very, very real. They had, after all, overrun Latium and threatened Rome itself. And given Rome’s love of the single hero standing between Rome and ruin (or a single soldier charging out and, through his courage, inspiring his fellows to win battle), it only makes sense that, in the character of Coriolanus, Rome flounders but is ultimately restored to a place of strength by adhering to its core principles. (It should be said that, in the original sources, what happens to Coriolanus is completely unclear. Shakespeare found the single version that gave a definitive end since, you know, plays need endings.) It’s very, very Roman.

I love Rome.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2018

Hi cacti friends! Welcome to Shakespeare Saturday!

Today’s post is focused on the casting news out of Stratford, Ontario (you know, that place C and I won’t shut up about?). Well, the 2018 season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival promises to be something special. We’re seeing traditional casting thrown to the curb, and gender-bending to the extreme. We couldn’t be more excited!

Not only are we seeing a woman take on the role of Prospero in The Tempest, but we’re also going to see Seana McKenna take on the title role in Julius Caesar. Whaaaat?

Mind = Blown.

Also, we’ll see Daren A. Herbert take on the role of Harold Hill in The Music Man. I love this casting choice, personally, because, unfortunately, the time period in which this musical was written often means that casting skews white. Which is just lazy reliance on tradition, in my opinion. My friend Janeta is currently playing Mary Poppins and although the casting is considered “unprecedented”, she’s practically perfect in every way for the part.

That’s the beauty of theatre. With the right creative team in place, the role will go to the person best suited to bring the character to life regardless of skin color. Or gender for that matter.

We’ll also see the return of our beloved Hamlet (Jonathan Goad), who hasn’t performed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival since our first trip in 2015. Additionally, our personal favorites, Graham Abbey, Tim Campbell, Brigit Wilson, and Tom Rooney will return!

#EXCITED

Below, I’ve linked the full casting announcement for your perusal. There are also a few promo photos which only adds to the excitement. Because, holy shit, Seana McKenna as Caesar. Check it out!

A

Stratford the Third: A Final Update (from Florida)

Hi, guys! Sorry this is late. I’m sure you’ve all been apprised of the situation we’re facing here in Florida. As of right now, neither A nor I have any idea which of us will get the brunt or if we’ll both share equally in this shit show. (Frankly, there’s more chance I’ll get the shit, so… sorry, A, but I’m hoping for the sharing.) But we’re both as prepared as one can be for a Cat 4/5 storm, so… that’s that. And I will get the hell outta dodge if it looks like I’m getting the brunt of it.

Floridians tend to be a bit cavalier about hurricanes, but when it gets this bad, we know what we’re about. I remember Andrew. This is looking like Andrew.

I should probably buy more soup…

Anyway. Let’s finish up with the reviews. I apologize in advance if my reviews aren’t as technical as A’s; she’s the theater insider, after all, with far more technical knowledge of how these things work than I possess. But hopefully, I prove an acceptable substitute and don’t disappoint you too much.

Now… let’s begin with Romeo and Juliet.

You all know how A and I feel about Romeo and Juliet. We didn’t write our novel because we were huge fans of the play, after all.

Well. Stratford had something to say about that. And, frankly, this was the finest performance of this play I have ever seen. Ever. At no point did I hate either Romeo or Juliet, and that says a lot. The only negative either A or I had was a breathing choice by Antoine Yared (who played Romeo), and that only because it proved just a tad distracting. He was meant to be breathing like someone who was sobbing (you know, that inward breath that makes a sound because you’re not actually bringing in enough air?) and it wasn’t bad… it just went on a tad too long.

Like. That was it. That was our only note. And we had to really think about it. Romeo and Juliet? And only one note? Hot damn, Stratford.

The reason we loved it so much was because this production played down the idiotic teenagers killing themselves (and four other people) for love and made their deaths a tragic consequence of their parents’ strife. It’s there in the text, of course, and always has been, but very few productions go that route. Romeo is exiled from his home, his family, his life… and Juliet’s death is just the last straw. Juliet is being forced to marry Paris, traded like a piece of chattel to a man she doesn’t love (not to mention committing a huge sin in the process) and a life she has no control over. Taking her own life is the one thing she can do that gives her control. It’s my favorite interpretation–the only one worth loving, in my opinion–and Stratford did it so beautifully.

It’s hard to choose standouts in such an amazing cast, but Antoine Yared and Sarah Farb as the star-crossed lovers steal the show. Juliet’s short-tempered shrieking gave me flashbacks to my teenage years (I mean… we all did it, right?) and Romeo had an almost Hamlet-like quality with his sensitive brooding. Together, they were adorable. Yeah. I used the word adorable. Fight me. Evan Buliung (yeah, Sky Masterson was in Shakespeare, too) as Mercutio was an especial delight (you know how we love Mercutio here at Nerd Cactus; in fact, we practically judge a production on the strength of the Queen Mab speech), perfect in his hyper-masculinity and exuberance. And given my love of Benvolio (aka Batvolio), I would have been disappointed if the performance wasn’t good, but Jamie Mac was wonderful.

For the record, A preferred Juliet. I, as ever, loved Romeo.

On to The Madwoman of Chaillot.

I can safely say that I will be sending a lot of terrible people into a deep hole for a while. Oh, how it would be amazing if we could just take all the horrible things and send them into a pit from which they will never escape. Rainbows, beautiful flowers, and flying pigeons sound like a wonderful world.

This wins–for me, anyway–the award for the single most charming production of the year. In it, the world is ugly but, through the efforts of the strange and the wonderful, it is made beautiful again. And oh were the strange and the wonderful… wonderful to behold. Like Guys and Dolls, this production was directed by Donne Feore, and… if the day comes that I have a play of mine put on in Stratford, she has my pick. Just saying.

The set and costumes were so colorful and whimsical, so characteristic of the characters and the world as seen by Aurélie, the eponymous madwoman. It’s a play about the Paris of artists and street singers and jugglers, the bright and beautiful, the people who make the world bright and beautiful with their existence. And, ultimately, it’s about those people fighting back against the Presidents and CEOs and oil prospectors who don’t care about beauty or music except as a way to make money. In short, it’s the world all of us wish we could have. And when all these villainous sonsofbitches disappear down a pit never to escape, I know I had my Arya Stark list made up within five minutes.

Seana McKenna as Aurélie is who I want to be when I grow up. Seriously. Without any exaggeration at all, I have officially found my goal in life. But she isn’t the only performer who deserves a shoutout. Scott Wentworth as The Ragman is particularly engrossing, especially when he’s mounting his defense for the wicked during the trial, embodying all the horrible greed and destruction of the capitalists of the world. And Mikaela Davies shouting at the end (Aurélie is pretending to be deaf; it’s very silly) almost made me laugh hard enough to forget her character’s name was Irma, which was… unfortunate given the, you know…

Really. I think I need to get more soup. One can never have enough canned goods during a hurricane.

Maybe I should just get out of town. Probably.

Anyway. Everyone was spectacular. It really is hard to choose. Although I need to commend Antoine Yared for his stint as an unconscious man. A was really impressed by his bodily control. Apparently, she once got thrown over a chair while playing a dead body, so she notices these things. Yup.

Last one! And the award for the most Trump insults/references in the span of five minutes goes to… Tartuffe! (Yes… they even solved the eternal mystery of what a covfefe is. Apparently, it’s a hypocritical religious imposter who tries to sleep with married women. So the original tweet was self-referential.)

You all know how much we love Tom Rooney as a comedic actor. Well, the talent extends to when he’s doing a Russian accent. Which, given our collective amusement at the “New York” accents during Guys and Dolls, was a nice touch. And Mr. Rooney didn’t outclass the entire joint, either; everyone was just so good, it took the the production to new heights of hilarity and entertainment. (A says I jinxed Maev Beaty and made her fall by asking what happens when people trip. I was asking about dance numbers. It wasn’t my fault, I swear. It was scripted, right? Yes? Of course.) In fact, it was my favorite play of the entire year (tied with Guys and Dolls), and the best way to end the trip.

Unlike last year’s The Hypochondriac, this year’s Molière was very modern. The script was updated (with Mariane and Valère yelling at for each to unfollow the other), though it maintained the rhyme scheme, which allowed for ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ to make appearances. (Did I mention how many Trump references there were?) In the end, the King facetimed in while his representative arrested Tartuffe, and French club music blared between scenes. It was, all in all, truly perfect. My only note was that some of the actors fell too easily into the rhythm of the rhyme scheme (you know duh dum duh dum, etc), which made them sound like they were reciting poetry. But considering as the audience got about two seconds of music before they were clapping in time like lemmings, I understand the draw.

As I said, Tom Rooney was absolutely hilarious as Tartuffe, but I actually found Graham Abbey’s Orgon funnier. There’s nothing quite like a big dude hiding under a poof chair while a Russian religious fraud is risrobing to ravish the man’s wife. And the scene with the pillows (oh the scene with the pillows), where Tartuffe is castigating himself while simultaneously passing pillows to Orgon, who then threw them at Damis (his son) was a piece of physical perfection. Maev Beaty’s Elmire trying to simultaneously get Tartuffe to incriminate himself and not actually have to sleep with him was delightful (also, sorry for making you fall). Watching Anusree Roy’s Dorine dancing around as she tried to keep her mouth shut (it was like basically the ‘pee-pee dance’ of being quiet) and bouncing around taunting Tartuffe was a piece of hilarity. And E.B. Smith throwing around terms like bigly and tremendousness was anything but sad (exlamation point). Actually, A and I started cackling about half a beat before everyone else at the ‘sad’ because we both have a habit of calling things sad now (I also do the hand gesture).

It was good to end on such a high note.

OK. I think I’ve written enough. That’s all the shows we saw and all the things we thought about them. With the exception of Bakkhai, we loved everything.

And, as ever, we’ve already tenatively booked with the B&B for next year. I’m already counting down the days!

C

 

Stratford Update #2: The School for Scandal, Guys & Dolls, and Twelfth Night

Greetings, fellow Nerd Cacti! Welcome to our second Stratford update. This week has been a whirlwind of Stratford strolling, delightful dishes, and theatrical excellence. I can’t believe it’s already Friday…

Since our last post we have seen four performances and three shows. That’s right, we doubled down on a certain fun-filled Bacchic experience… Just kidding. You couldn’t pay me to watch Bakkhai again. In truth, we were so won over by Stratford’s exuberant production of Guys & Dolls that we purchased rush tickets for the matinee. The day after we had seen an evening performance. We watched it back to back. It was great both times.

On to the reviews!

The School for Scandal

Stratford’s take on this classic reformation piece was utterly delightful. The set was lovely, the cast was wonderful, and the costumes were GORGEOUS. The only real problem with this kind of show is that it takes a scene or two for the ear to adjust to the proper cadence, but that’s my problem.

Let me preface the review with a quick anecdote: after our experience at Bakkhai I was particularly excited to see a piece with a costume plot that looked cohesive (as per pictures). C joked that, if nothing else, I could count on the fact that none of the actor’s would show up in jeans. Well, the first person to walk onstage wore jeans and carried an iPhone. Luckily, it was part of a clever bookend that set up the premise of gossip and needing to be connected, but it was also the “turn off your phones” announcement. It worked. After that, the show falls into the expected period-appropriate style, presenting a riot of fast-paced battles of wit and farce.

The School for Scandal is a late 18th century piece that explores the ups and downs of society, the nature of gossip and scheming, and the best way to exploit mistaken identities. The set and costumes are lush, capturing the extravagance of the upper crust in that period, as well as their desperate need to remain a la mode. Silks and lace simply drip off the characters, and the wigs are sky high. Special shoutout goes to Benjamin Backbite’s (Tom Rooney) Macaroni attire, complete with the most fabulous purple buckled heels.

Everyone in the cast is well-suited to their roles, the standouts being Geraint Wyn Davies’s Sir Peter Teazle, Brigit Wilson’s Mrs. Candour, and Tyrone Savage’s Joseph Surface. Truly, the entire cast is a standout, but Wyn Davies’s ability to make Sir Peter endearing, Wilson’s shrill and hilarious take on an aging gossip, and Savage’s excellent two-facedness and booming voice made them particularly fun to watch.

 

Guys & Dolls

As we mentioned, we saw Guys & Dolls twice. It is an exceptional, high-energy delight from start to finish with a fierce cast (because holy shit, the dancers), and excellent design and direction.

Donna Feore’s direction and choreography is outstanding. The choreography is particularly fun to watch due to Feore’s use of unique pockets of choreography that meld together into a unison burst of athleticism. The staging is lovely – nothing is lost on the audience despite the thrust configuration of the Festival Theatre – and the characterizations are spot on.

The only note either of us had was that the “New York” accents peppered among the cast wasn’t unified, came in and out for certain actors, and ultimately took inspiration from bad gangster movies and cartoons. This sounds like it would be distracting, but, honestly, it was never so bad as to detract from the performances, and the show as a whole is so charming that it doesn’t really matter.

Favorites of ours included Steve Ross’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Evan Buliung’s Sky Masterson, and Blythe Wilson’s Miss Adelaide. Actually, it should be noted that we saw two different Miss Adelaide’s. Bonnie Jordan covered for Wilson during our first viewing and did an excellent job in the role as well. All told, there aren’t any weak spots in the cast, and the performers’ talents are clearly utilized to their fullest capacity. The voices are powerful, the dancing is clean and exciting, and it was a damned good time.

 

Twelfth Night

It’s hard to go from something as loud and vibrant as Guys & Dolls to something as quiet and contained as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but that’s just what we did. We’ve both made it clear that Twelfth Night is far from being our favorite Shakespearean comedy, but Stratford’s production delivers excellent actors and adds a musical element that we really loved.

For us, the subplot is actually the best part of this play so it was greatly satisfying to see that storyline played by genuinely hysterical performers with the addition of a great deal of physical humor. Emilio Vieira’s Sir Toby, Tom Rooney’s Sir Andrew, and Lucy Peacock’s Maria are a joy to watch as they plot, drink, and laugh in seemingly endless bouts. Sarah Afful’s Viola is also wonderful to watch, despite her unfounded attachment to Orsino which we will never understand – this is not a reflection on E.B. Smith’s performance, it is a comment on the wedding plots being poorly written (sorry, Shakespeare).

It is Brent Carver’s Feste, however, who steals the show. His absurdly beautiful singing voice and gentle wit as Olivia’s fool are so endearing you just can’t help watching his every move. His use of Tibetan bowls and crystal clear crooning were a lovely way to handle some of his quieter moments and the effect worked to set the mood as a quiet comedy.

Lastly, let us give a special nod to Viola’s dress in the final scene. We’d grown used to seeing her dressed as a boy so when she arrived onstage in a richly colored gown looking like an African QUEEN we couldn’t contain our whispered chorus of “yaaaaaas”.

 

Thanks for tuning in, friends! We’ll be back with another update soon. Today, we’ll be seeing Romeo and Juliet. Because, frankly, we’ve been drowning in comedies. It’s time to switch things up.

 

Cheers!

-A and C

Boozy Books: Tartuffe

Hello! Welcome to the last of our Boozy Books run-ups to this year’s Stratford adventure! Come Monday, we’ll be on a plane up to Canada (and weather that isn’t like a literal sauna) and, as we’ve done the last two years, the week of Stratford (and usually the week after, as well) foregoes the usual format to basically vomit forth all our love for everything we see. So… that.

Anyway. Let’s talk Tartuffe.

The main thrust of the play is that Tartuffe is a religious fraud who worms his way into the house of a man called Orgon, to the point that Orgon and his mother take no action without first consulting Tartuffe. But, fortunately for Orgon, the rest of the household can see right through Tartuffe’s false pieties and make up their mind to get him out of their hair. They finally manage to convince Orgon of Tartuffe’s assholery (though it takes Tartuffe nearly assaulting Organ’s wife, Elmire), but things happen and everything kinda goes to shit for Orgon et al before, in what might very well be the most obvious case of Deus Ex Machina ever, the glorious (and unnamed) Louis XIV uses his wisdom to pierce the clouds of moral turpitude and set everything to rights. (Hey, when Louis XIV is the reason for your existence, you let him be the hero, OK?)

As I discussed on Monday, Molière was a very regular playwright. He, largely because France was so big on them, used the classical unities to their fullest. It’s a play with one arching story, one setting, and it takes place within twenty-four hours (give or take). But because of those constraints, there’s a lot of depth to be explored. Like pretty much anything Molière, the play is outrageously funny. A simple translation and a direct staging would be enough for this play (and all of Molière’s plays) to be funny. So imagine what a great translation and an interesting staging might do. After all, it’s not like the world today is rife with seemingly-pious imposters who’re only looking after themselves…

*cough* *hack* *fall over*

From what I understand of the performance this year, I can only imagine a certain orange buffoon will receive his share of the raillery. OK, maybe just outright mocking. One can only hope.

OK. What to drink? I’m going with a Beaujolais. Preferably a Beaujolais Nouveau, which is the lightest variety. Why? Because it is said that a Beaujolais is the only white wine that happens to be red. And I think a wine that looks like one thing but is another is perfect for a play like this. Its actual taste is light, it’s usually served chilled, and is often served at picnics, which I think fits Molière’s plays to a tee. So… get you some white-red wine and enjoy the festivities!

C

Monday Muse: Ah, Molière!

OK. First of all, I could have sworn I scheduled this. Turns out, I just left it open in my browser and THOUGHT I scheduled it. So… it’s late. Sorry.

So. We’ve come to the fourth and final week of Shakespeare-a-palooza 2017! Next week, A and I will be coming at you live from (hopefully) sunny Stratford, Ontario! As you know, we have a habit of reviewing all the shows we see, so make sure to check back in to find out what other adventures we had. Because, while we only saw three plays our first time in Stratford (two years ago), this year we’re seeing at least eight, maybe nine (if Treasure Island gets a good recommendation). That’s every matinee and night show for all five full days we’re up there except for Friday night, which is devoted to our sole out-of-town trip to Anna Mae’s (an Amish restaurant with the best–THE BEST–potato salad).

Besides the plays we covered this month (including Tartuffe, which is this week), we’re also seeing a Greek play (The Bakkhai), another Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet), a Drury Lane classic (The School for Scandal), and the only other play I seriously considered pairing (The Madwoman of Chaillot). It’s a good collection, though I do wish we’d been able to work HMS Pinafore into the mix. Nothing like Gilbert and Sullivan to make a day great!

Anyway, moving on to today’s topic: MolièreNot his birth name, but the name that has survived through the years. He is, to put it in the easiest terms possible, to France what Shakespeare is to England. And he and the Bard have a lot in common. Both were actors as well as playwrights, both were part of a theater company, and both used their mastery of their respective languages to give incredible insight into the human condition. There is a reason they have survived in a way that others haven’t, though Shakespeare gets the edge here in the North American continent because of our connection to Britain.

The biggest difference, really, is that Molière’s comedies are really more in the style of, say, Ben Jonson than William Shakespeare. Molière was a very, and I use the term loosely, ‘regular’ playwright. By this, I mean he adhered to the classical unities, or Aristotelian unities, which directed that a play must have one action (with minimal subplots), it must take place in a period of no more than 24 hours, and it should stay in one place. The French dramatists of the 17th century (of whom Molière was one) were said to be, in this way, very regular.

Shakespeare was… let’s just say not. He, like many of England’s playwrights during the Elizabethan era, owed more to the Roman tradition, especially Terence and Plautus in the case of comedy. Only two of Shakespeare’s plays conform to the unities–The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest–whereas Molière’s fits perfectly. What this allowed Molière to do that Shakespeare did not was use his comedy for satirical purposes. Because everything is so tightly focused, limited to one place for no more than twenty-four hours (with no subplots), Molière had to wring the meaning from his words. He couldn’t rely on spectacle the way Shakespeare could (though that’s not to say his plays couldn’t get ridiculous; satire is often ridiculous). Shakespeare went big and ridiculous, ribald and over-the-top for his comedies. In the words of the Reduced Shakespeare Comedy: “why did he write sixteen comedies when he could have written just one?” Well, of course, Shakespeare was also a master at something Molière was not: staying out of trouble.

Where Shakespeare used framing devices (plays within plays, history in place of the present) to distance his criticisms enough to maintain plausible deniability, Molière went big. He stayed contemporary, spelling out his feelings in ways that were immediately recognizable and instantly understandable to his audiences. Keep in mind, too, that while Shakespeare was writing for, in many cases, the great unwashed masses, Molière was writing for the Sun King, Louis XIV. His audiences would have easily understood just who Molière was sending up, even if he did so using biting sarcasm and irony. Where Shakespeare had to go big to appease his audience (the English never did take to the classical unities the way the French did. Actually, no one took to the classical unities the way the French did), Molière could be more subtle.

That doesn’t mean he was. In fact, even with the King’s patronage and support, when Molière died, he never received last rites because two priests refused to visit him. He had angered the medical profession, the Church, and many other influential people by, basically, talking shit about them in his plays. When he fell sick (collapsing during a performance of, ironically enough, The Hypochondriac), no one wanted to help him.

Ah, the dangers of speaking truth to power.

However, because he was so favored of the King, an exception was made to the ‘not being buried in sacred ground’ rule (it was a silly time and place), and Molière was allowed a normal burial. He was, of course, eventually moved because he’s a goddamn literary icon. Do you think if we knew where Mozart was buried we wouldn’t have moved him to something lavish? Of course we would have. Greatness deserves recognition.

Anyway. I wanted to talk about Molière because, frankly, he’s funnier than Shakespeare. And you gotta love a man who’s willing to piss people off to say something true.

Also, there’s a legend that wearing green is bad luck for actors. This is likely because he was wearing green when he died.

Cool, huh?

I’ll be back Friday to pair Tartuffe, which is all about religious hypocrisy.

Ah, Molière. How relevant you remain.

C