Stratford 2013

2013 marks the year that Stratford alum and former financial director Antoni Cimolino takes the artistic reins for the Festival. Hurray! No more McAnuff. Maybe there'll be watchable tragedies at the Festival now!

Festival Theatre

Romeo and Juliet
Dir. Tim Carroll

Fiddler on the Roof
Bock and Harnick
Dir. Donna Feore

The Three Musketeers
Peter Raby
Dir. Miles Potter

The Merchant of Venice
Dir. Antoni Cimolino

Avon Theatre

Blithe Spirit
Noel Coward
Dir. Brian Bedford

The Who's Tommy (what the actual fuck)
The Who, I'm bloody well assuming
Dir. Des McAnuff

Dir. Chris Abraham

Tom Patterson Theatre

Measure for Measure
Dir. Martha Henry

Mary Stuart
Friedrich Schiller
Dir. Antoni Cimolino

Waiting for Godot
Samuel Beckett
Dir. Jennifer Tarver

Studio Theatre

Taking Shakespeare
John Murell
Dir. Diana Leblanc

The Thrill
Judith Thompson
Dir. Dean Gabourie

First of all, good to see that Des McAnuff decided to stick around for one more season, just so he could totally ruin my opinion of him. I don't know what The Who's Tommy has to do with Shakespeare, or classical repertory, or hell, this season as a whole. McAnuff wants a Tony, we got the picture about four years ago, but he really shouldn't use Stratford as a receptacle for out-of-town try-outs.

That's insulting.

Apart from that unfortunate (soooo unfortunate) hiccup, I want to like this season. It has a few really cool ideas, tight themes, and the pieces are more or less unified with each other. Someone put a lot of care into constructing this season, and it shows.

But it's honestly just too safe. I'm reminded of the later Monette years, when there were three well-known Shakespeares on the big stages, and all-around feel-good and familiar fare. A lot of these plays have had very recent incarnations at the Festival. That's not necessarily a bad thing; theatre is above everything else entertainment, and at a repertory theatre, there are going to be retreads of old favourites.

But honestly, I feel like we've just had a Rom and Jules (and a West Side Story, for that matter), and it feels very safe to have the star-crossed lovers as the flagship production in Cimolino's inaugural season. There's only so many times you can tell that story. But the school groups will keep coming in.

In fact, I'm pretty sure three of the four Shakespeare plays on for the projected season are in the high school curriculum for Ontario, so the money's in the bank from the busloads of kids guaranteed to come in to see these shows. I hope for everyone's sake that 2013's Merchant of Venice doesn't fuck up in the same epic scale as Stratford's last attempt at this show, and that Othello is finally given the treatment it deserves here. There's nothing that will turn students off to Shakespeare faster than an actual professional production of one of his plays missing the point of the text completely, or trudging through like Shakespeare is a chore.

That said, I have faith in Cimolino as a director. His Cymbeline is getting great reviews, and people loved what happened when he did Jonson's Bartholomew Fair a couple of years ago. I think it's interesting that he's chosen to direct both Merchant of Venice and Schiller's Mary Stuart. Both have similar themes and they are both on stages that he's proven himself on. I'll be tentatively anticipating his contributions to this season.

I'm also looking forward to Martha Henry directing Measure for Measure, as well as Brian Bedford directing Blithe Spirit. I love what they do, no matter what.

I'm relatively indifferent to the Canadian offerings. The Murell piece seems really cliched, even if it does tie in to this season's Othello, and quite honestly, if you want something that ties into this season's plays, I have Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet. I'm not a fan of Judith Thompson, but I'll reserve judgement on her play because it hasn't even been performed yet.

Fiddler on the Roof seems like an arbitrary spoonful of sugar for the bitter pill that Merchant of Venice is definitely going to be. That said, Donna Feore is an extraordinary director, and if they cast Brent Carver as Tevye again I'll be really very happy.

This version of The Three Musketeers is something of a legacy piece for Stratford. The play was specially written for the Festival stage, and has been performed sporadically there for some time. Between it and Cyrano, Stratford stocks up on its dashing French musketeers. I'll be interested to see this, if only because of the relevance it has to the Festival.

I really want to see Waiting for Godot. Along with Measure for Measure and Blithe Spirit, it's one of the few shows I'll see without any reservations going in.

Which leaves Othello. I have complicated thoughts about Othello. It's a fantastic play, without a doubt, and it's not performed enough at Stratford. But I swear, if the cast is what I think it's going to be, I'll flip a table because of the uninventive but inevitable casting.

But altogether, this seems more like a transitional season than an out-and-out premiere season for Cimolino. Though he's announced a couple of ambitious projects to expand Stratford's influence, most of the seasonal offerings seem pretty light, and again, pretty safe. But this is July 2012; maybe my view will change by 2013.

So these are my half-comprehensible thoughts on the Stratford season of 2013, emphasis on the reprehensible. What are your thoughts?

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