Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Chamber "Dream" at Stratford

I am in beautiful downtown Stratford, Ontario, a lovely town surrounded by shoulder-high cornfields and giant hog farms, home to one of the great theatre companies of the world. And also home to my beloved friend Lani and her man Maurice. Tiny fierce foghorn-voiced Lani and I acted together in many plays in Vancouver throughout the Seventies. We did the Helena/Hermia fight scene from Midsummer Night's Dream for a tour of the Kootenay Mountains, performing outside in fields and in community centres. How I loved speaking these lines as Helena to Lani's Hermia's furious face:
O, when she's angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school;
And though she be but little, she is fierce.

So I took her last night to see a "chamber" version of Dream, directed by the well-known Peter Sellars in a small new performance space. It's controversial, and Lani, who is a zero tolerance kind of person, was not looking forward to sitting for more than an hour and a half of weird avant-garde theatre. At the end, she said, "I didn't hate it, and I'm glad I saw it." Which is saying a lot.

It IS weird, a deconstruction of the play - what a dangerous word that is. Done on a bare stage by only two couples, one white, one black, the play is stripped down to its essence, which you realize as you watch is far darker than other productions usually show. Love is savage and tortured, the woods are dark and dangerous, the fairies are toying with humans, the humans are lost and bewildered, blind, foolish and cruel.

There was some unnecessary "theatre school stuff," as Lani called it, too much shouting, fondling and scratching at the walls with fingernails, and there's no humour at all, which is a great loss. But I liked very much the opportunity to delve into the mind of that most brilliant of poets, to really hear his words flowing through the mouths of four talented actors, who were working very hard, with nothing to hide behind. Definitely worthwhile, if not pleasant or easy.

I got here midday Friday on the new direct Stratford bus, $20 roundtrip, about two hours in a comfortable bus with wifi - what a great thing that is. I got in early yesterday to spend the afternoon wandering around with Lan, doing my favourite things - looking at spectacular old Ontario houses and shopping. Went to my two favourite stores, the shoe store on Ontario St. where I've always found a pair, and this time was no exception. And then to the chocolate store Rheo Thompson's, for a lot of my favourite dark chocolate smoothies. The other joy of being here, besides visiting dear friends, shopping and seeing great theatre, is dog hugs - Lani's wise calm Bourbon, whom she calls a "borderline retriever" - part golden retriever and border collie - loves hugs. So we just sit and hug.

This morning we went to the farmer's market, where I bought fresh peaches, raspberries and apples which I have to haul back - and this afternoon I'm seeing the Gershwin musical confection Crazy for You and catching the bus back right afterwards. Home full of fruit, friendship, theatre and dark chocolate mint smoothies.

PS Lan and I just ran into a former actress colleague at the liquor store - she's in the current season here. And she hated the "Dream." "Back to the experimental theatre of the Seventies," she said. "'Those poor actors." So there you go. Take your pick.

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