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Stage Door Guest Review of
Collected Stories
Stratford Festival, Stratford, July 28 - September 2, 2000
Review by Christopher Hoile

In announcing its 2000 season, the publicity department of the Stratford Festival loudly proclaimed that legendary actress Uta Hagen would be "joining the Stratford Festival company." This is rather an overstatement. Neither Hagen nor her co-star Lorca Simons appear in any other Stratford production other than Donald Margulies' 1996 play Collected Stories. The director, designer, sound designer and even the stage manager are all from the original off-Broadway production. Only the lighting designer, Michael Whitfield, is associated with the Stratford and was used since he knows the lighting boards for the Tom Patterson Theatre. The production in Stratford is thus merely a month-long stopover of a play that has been touring the U.S. Northeast since its run ended on Broadway. Unlike the Australian actress Pamela Rabe, who does appear in a play other than her one-woman show A Room of One's Own at the Shaw Festival, Uta Hagen can in no way be said to have "joined" the Stratford company.

What strikes one first on entering the Tom Patterson Theatre is that the set is definitely not a Stratford set. It is highly naturalistic, overdecorated and in its design of a combined living room/dining room/study immediately calls to mind the sets of any number of TV sitcoms. Windows, bookcases, tables and desks are placed on the periphery of the thrust stage with no concern for the sight lines of anyone sitting in the front row on any of the three sides. If you plan to see the show, make sure your seat is in at least the second row. The set is well lit by Michael Whitfield, with an especially nice sequence of extinguished lamps at the end, but presumably he is reproducing the lighting plans used for other stops on the tour.

In seeing Uta Hagen in Collected Stories, you will be seeing a great actress in a play that is far from great. The six scenes of the play chart the relationship of two women--Ruth Steiner (Hagen), a famed short story writer and teacher, and Lisa Morrison (Simons), an enthusiastic graduate student who becomes Steiner's assistant and friend and whose own success as a writer Steiner helps to foster. The crisis comes in the sixth scene when Steiner discovers that Morrison has used information about Steiner's private life as the subject for her first novel. In the self-aggrandizing program note, Margulies says that the plot was inspired by the David Leavitt-Stephen Spender controversy. The "universal truth" Margulies sees in his play is pretty much absent from its first five scenes which remain within the realm of a well-written sitcom full of one-liners and topical references that have already become dated. Incredibly, Margulies seriously uses the Woody Allen--Soon-Yi Previn affair to establish the play's theme. Then in the sixth and last scene when the women argue over when a person's life becomes merely "material" for fiction, Margulies rapidly flips through the recent academic vocabulary of political correctness, dropping such concepts as appropriating voices, giving voice to the disenfranchised, transgressing borders, postfeminism and the like. (Margulies teaches at Yale.) Rather than making the play seem universal, this concept dropping without development seems more like a last-minute attempt to convince the audience that what till now has been a sitcom is actually supposed to be taken seriously. It also effectively narrows the meaning of the play to a kind of essay topic: "By publishing a novel based on Steiner's life, Morrison has stolen Steiner's property. Discuss". In so doing, Margulies, this year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize, follows the clichéd formula of Broadway and now off-Broadway plays--"Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, give 'em some meaning and send 'em out in two and a half hours."

Despite the formulaic nature of the play and Margulies' decision to hold off on giving us our dose of "meaning" until the last 20 minutes, the performances of both Hagen and Simons are excellent. Hagen, now in her 80s, is famous for creating the role of Martha in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and for two respected books on acting. Her command of technique and timing are still in evidence, although she seems unwilling to project her voice until the big confrontation in the last scene. This means that people will find her hard to hear. There is no such problem with her co-star, Lorca Simons, except that since Hagen is so soft, Simons seems too loud. Hagen helps to make Steiner--yet another example of the new stereotype of the feisty, cantankerous senior--into a more rounded character. She successfully ages Steiner over the six years covered by the action without relying on any of the clichéd mannerisms most actors would use. She makes Steiner's long revelation in scene three concerning her affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz the dramatic high point of the play. Lorca Simons is well matched with Hagen. She effectively portrays the awkward, culturally ignorant graduate student who in her adulation of Steiner can't seem to put a foot right to please her and makes her character subtly mature until she can later confront her former mentor on an equal footing.

Given the nature of the play, director William Carden draws fine performances from the two actresses though his sense of pace and timing may strike some as too slick. He makes little use of the front quarter of the Tom Paterson stage, so that I would recommend sitting in the side seats rather than in the centre section unless you don't mind being rather far from the action.

If your goal in seeing Collected Stories is to see an intellectually stimulating recent American play, you will be disappointed. If, however, your main goal is to see Uta Hagen on stage while she is still fit enough for a full-length role, then do so by all means. Seeing her have such command now even with an unprojected voice will make you wish you could have seen her in her famous roles of the 1960s and '70s.

©2000 Christopher Hoile

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Elizabeth Rex
Stratford Festival,, Stratford, June 29-September 30, 2000.
Stage Door guest review by Christopher Hoile

If I didn't know from the programme, I would have thought that Elizabeth Rex, the new play by Timothy Findley written in collaboration with Paul Thompson, was actually a revival of some imitation Peter Shaffer play of 20 or 30 years ago. As in Amadeus the play is in the form of an old artist remembering an incident from the past, Salieri in Shaffer, Shakespeare in Findley. As in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, the focus is a frank but improbable discussion between a person in authority and a person without power, Pizarro and the Inca Atahualpa in Shaffer, Elizabeth I and an actor in Findley. In both cases the person in authority learns something important about life from the other. Both Shaffer and Findley write about the roles we inherit and roles we wish we could play. Both aim their works at a middle-brow audience by double-underlining any symbolism or allusions to make sure we get them. I felt not only that I was not seeing a new work but one that was already dated, since so much of the territory of the play had already been covered by others.

The conceit of Elizabeth Rex is that an already dead Shakespeare recalls an event from the past that he never had a chance to write about. The barn he is in reminds him of the barn where he and some of his actors took refuge after curfew was called following a performance of Much Ado about Nothing for the Queen. The Queen, whose former lover, now traitor, Essex is to be executed in the morning, joins the actors with some of her court seeking diversion from her unease. She falls into a discussion with the male actor who had just played Beatrice and who is dying of syphilis. She will teach him how to be a man if he will teach her how to be a woman. Famous passages from Shakespeare are quoted, the morning, Ash Wednesday, arrives, Essex is beheaded, the curfew is lifted, all leave except Shakespeare, who repeats his opening lines before departing.

Findley creates the character of Ned Lowenscroft in the belief that a mature actor must have played Shakespeare's great female roles, despite all evidence to the contrary, including from Antony and Cleopatra itself, which is frequently quoted in the play. The central encounter is supposed to be between the manly queen and the effeminate man. The bargain which concludes Act 1 and is repeated at the start of Act 2 never is fulfilled. Elizabeth does not teach Lowenscroft to be a man‹he seems already to be one. Lowenscroft's idea of teaching Elizabeth to be a woman is to force her to recall lying between the sheets with Essex. Here we have the old 1970s cliché of sex as a defining moment. However, given the emphasized parallel with the homosexual Lowenscroft, it's impossible to see why the sex act should make her aware of her womanhood instead of an innate manhood. In the notes, Findley states that the meaning of the play could be summed up by Polonius' words in Hamlet, "To thine own self be true." Setting aside the unreliability of Polonius as a moral guide, we are to believe that in recognizing her womanhood, Elizabeth finds a way to mercy, alas too late to save Essex. Besides the antiquated association of femininity with mercy and gentleness, the evidence of the play itself suggests the folly of pardoning a condemned traitor. Given Elizabeth's father's habit of doing away with wives, only the most sentimental attitude, as we have here, would show Elizabeth torn with conflict about a lover who is now a enemy. Why should we think Elizabeth is not true to herself by placing the state above private affairs, unless we take the antediluvian view that womanhood and political power don't mix? While Findley has written some potent scenes and two meaty roles for actors, the argument of Elizabeth Rex just doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. In a play which quotes so heavily from Shakespeare, it is inevitable that the best lines are not by Findley. When Findley has Elizabeth don the costume and wig just worn by Lowenscroft who she knows has running sores, we know that symbolism not common sense is driving the play. The same goes for Lowenscroft's tame bear and the union Elizabeth blesses between her Maid-of-Honour and an actor--hardly likely.

Despite these reservations, the production itself is near flawless. Martha Henry's direction is clear and precise. She brings about one of the few example of real ensemble acting I've seen at Stratford in recent years. Allan Wilbee's set instantly conjures up a heavy-beamed barn, though why there should be an arbour inside the barn downstage left obscuring some of the audience's view is unclear. His costumes are lovely, giving the Stratford audiences a rare chance to see a play in Elizabethan dress. Elizabeth's gown is magnificent. Louise Guinand's light is highly atmospheric and gives an autumnal cast to the central part of the play. Todd Charlton's sound design is fine, but, as is so often the case at this festival, largely unnecessary.

Unlikely as it is that Elizabeth would mingle with actors, then thought the lowest of the low, and allow herself to be insulted by them (and in a barn no less), Findley has created two fine roles for actors. Diane D'Aquila, with her low, hard voice, is excellent at Elizabeth, showing both her hauteur and despair, her outer persona and inner turmoil. Brent Carver as Ned Lowenscroft gives a soul-baring performance, looking very frail but showing great strength of mind beneath the frailness. Findley has also created two memorable minor characters--Percy Gower the clown and Kate Tardwell the wardrobe mistress. As Gower, Keith Dinicol gives a performance that for once is not over the top, a clown on stage and treated as one off it. Joyce Campion is thoroughly delightful as near-sighted Tardwell, concerned totally with the care of her costumes as if acting in them came second. The role of Shakespeare ought to be important, but Findley gives him little to do or say once his memory takes shape on stage. Peter Hutt plays the part in a wan monotone which is supposed to suggest old age, but simply makes the character uninteresting. The list of the Lord Chamberlain's Men is completed with Damien Atkins, Evan Buliung, Andrew Burr, Paul Dunn, Michael Fawkes and Scott Wentworth. So many are needed to suggest a troupe, but Findley finds little for them to do other than observe the Elizabeth-Lowenscroft debate. The same is true for the other court members played by Florence MacGregor and Rita Howell. At least Bernard Hopkins as the Queen's Private Secretary, has important lines as the voice of the political expedience.

Findley gives us so little information about the background of the Elizabeth and Essex story that it is impossible for us to judge Elizabeth's actions. Findley wants us to react emotionally not rationally, as he wants us to with Lowenscroft and Shakespeare. It is all supposed to be very sad but it is ultimately unmoving and unenlightening. What we are left with is that strange paradox of seeing two unforgettable performances in a forgettable play.


©2000 Christopher Hoile

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Fiddler on the Roof
Stratford Festival, Stratford, June 2-Nov. 4.
Review by Christopher Hoile

The good news about Stratford's current production of Fiddler on the Roof is that Brent Carver is absolutely wonderful in the main role of Tevye the dairyman. The naturalness and simplicity he brings to the role banish all thought of previous, more famous portrayers of the character. Compared to Carver, their portrayals seem overly sentimental, clownish and too given to shtick. Carver's voice is beautiful rather than gruff and hearty. His slight physique better suits a man living in poverty. And his complete lack of pretense make his frequent address to God seem sincere rather than arch. After seeing Carver, I wouldn't want to see anyone else in the role. We really feel his struggle as he tries to justify to himself the increasingly less beneficial matches his three oldest daughters choose for themselves.

Unfortunately, director Susan H. Schulman surrounds Carver's subtle, re-imagined Tevye, with a cast of caricatures. Worst among these is Theresa Tova as Yente the matchmaker. She speaks several decibels louder than anyone else and her acting is so over-the-top it is obnoxious rather than comic. Her accent suggests she hails from Count Dracula's Transylvania instead of the Ukraine of Anatevka. Barbara Barsky, as Tevye's wife, could have followed Carver's lead by giving her character nuance and depth, but instead she allows Golde to be another stereotyped Jewish mother.

Luckily, the roles of Tevye's three principal daughters are all well played and well sung--Robin Hutton as the eldest Tzeitel, Tracy Michaildis as Hodel and Amy Walsh as Chava. Michael Therriault turns in another fine performance as comically shy tailor, Motel, who finally works up enough courage to ask for Tzeitel's hand. The same cannot be said for the other two suitors. Fred Love, as the student in love with Hodel, acts more as if he comes from Kansas than Kiev, making no attempt to match the Yiddish-influenced speech rhythms of those around him. He is such a cold fish it's impossible to see why Hodel falls for him. Jonathan Goad as Fyedka, the Russian in love with Chava, has the same flaws as Love though at least he is less stiff on stage. George Masswohl as Lazar the butcher is very fine in showing both pleasure at the prospect of marrying again and, later, anger at his disappointment. Craig Ashton does very well in making us believe the constable feels the dilemma of "only following orders" in disrupting Tzeitel's wedding and later in evicting the whole Jewish population of Anatevka from their homes.

The bad news about Fiddler is that nothing else cuts through the potential kitsch of the musical in the way that Carver redefines its central character. The worst offenders are New York-based director Susan H. Schulman and Canadian designer Debra Hanson. In contrast to Carver's winning simplicity, the show as a whole is shamelessly over-produced, as was this duo's production of Man of La Mancha for Stratford in 1998. Schulman clearly has no respect for Tanya Moiseiwitsch's basic design for the Festival Theatre stage. In 1998 and again now, she removes the balcony and staircases from the stage and then ensures that every inch of the original wood is covered over with a set. No other director at Stratford has made such an effort to obliterate the beauty of that famous stage. In effect, she is attempting to turn the multivalent possibilities of Moiseiwitsch's elegant design into the back wall of a proscenium stage with the thrust as the reduced performing area. Moiseiwitsch's basic stage could, without adornment, have easily served as the prison setting in La Mancha and as the shtetl in Fiddler. But for the New Yorker and the Stratford administration that sanctions her actions, this simplicity must be thought lacking in "production values."

Besides, hiding all evidence of the basic stage design, Schulman has a penchant for demanding the installation of expensive mechanical toys. In La Mancha she pointlessly had a mechanized drawbridge put in to link the stage to the balcony (when the original staircases would have done just as well). In Fiddler she has had a double revolve put in, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the shows at Stratford play in repertory so that this huge (unnecessary) machine will have to be dismantled and reassembled for every performance. In both shows, Schulman does not make enough effective use of the mechanical toy to justify its installation. Unlike in Les Misérables, where a revolve was in constant use to feed in and unload props from the stage, here, props are carried on and off as if the revolve were not there. Only in the wedding of Tzeitel and Motel, does she use the revolve to any effect, having it turn slowly as the cast sings Sunrise, Sunset. It's a lovely moment, but could have been achieved by simpler means and without the audible whirring of the machinery.

Debra Hanson again indulges her penchant for glamorizing whatever play she tackles, whether it is appropriate or not. Her extravagance made nonsense of the prison setting of La Mancha and here she annoyingly cutesifies the world of Fiddler. Taking her cue from Boris Aronson's original designs, Hanson has painted the revolve with various motifs from Chagall and hangs chairs, a rooster and a menorah from the ceiling. Her "back wall" depicting the shtetl, however, owes far more to Disney cartoons than Chagall. For five daughters living in poverty, Hanson clothes them as tidily as is they were in Anne of Green Gables. Her refusal to break down the costumes is bizarre considering the poverty the characters are said to suffer. Only two tiny patches on Tevye's coat suggest that it isn't brand new. In the dream sequence in Act 1, she elaborately and quite inappropriately clothes the ghosts as if they were exiles from a Desmond Heeley production of Oedipus.

New Yorker Michael Lichtefeld's choreography is spectacular in recreating Jerome Robbins's original choreography, as in the famous "bottle dance," and in otherwise adapting it to a thrust stage. Kevin Fraser's lighting, unusually for him, frequently calls attention to itself in its abrupt shifts and its look-at-me prettiness, but in so doing it fits in with the graceless overall design concept of Schulman and Hanson.

Musically, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's songs are very well performed. The most effective scenes are all the simplest ones, especially those between father and daughter. Still, Brent Carver is the overriding reason to see this production. The naturalness of his performance ultimately dominates even the crassness of the production. Yet, imagine how powerful the show might have been if the moving simplicity Carver gives his character could somehow have informed the whole production.

©2000 Christopher Hoile

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directed by Joseph Ziegler
Stratford Festival, playing until November 5, 2000, at the Festival Theatre.

A Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt

Each time we see Hamlet (and, as the world's most produced play, it's not unusual to see it more than any other), we're impressed by two things: First, that the actor and director can bring yet another unique interpretation to the role. And second, that there could be so many clichés created in one piece of literature.

Natural skeptics, and not serious fans of Paul Gross, we were prepared to see something akin to Keanu Reeves' alleged disaster, yet sold-out run, in Winnipeg. Self-styled TV and movie "stars" surely could not stand up to what is undeniably the most sought-after, criticized, and arguably, demanding roles ever created. How could such a little fellow with such a big ego possibly hit the stage running, night after night after night, giving a single-take performance in excess of three hours? An actor may talk about a role "energizing" them, but to witness a performance like this is to see so much energy expended that the concept of doing it all over again for a matinee tomorrow is mind-boggling.

And that is, indeed, what we saw from Paul Gross as Hamlet: a performance of such energy (and humour) that others may appear somewhat lethargic in comparison. The role is often characterized as "brooding," but Gross does not brood. Gross jumps, darts, flies…he may be demented, but he is not melancholic.

Although Shakespeare left three or four divergent versions of Hamlet for us to argue about, he left few stage directions and no background notes. As a result, we don't know if Hamlet is supposed to be insane or merely wants us to believe he is. We don't know if his mother is a willing partner in the incestuous alliance with the usurping king. We don't even know if Hamlet loved Ophelia…or Horatio. And as this is not a history play, these are things the director and the actors, and ultimately we, have to sort out.

In the current Stratford production, director Joseph Ziegler has given us a new look at an old friend. He takes a little getting used to, this bouncing boy beset with grief, hiding behind a dimpled grin.

His job is not easy, given the staggeringly slow start of the play, with the singsong sentinels setting the stage for what would surely be a long evening. The monotony is hardly broken by the Ghost, a spectre that even Shakespeare probably used more pyrotechnics than Ziegler to produce. Somnambulist-like Juan Chioran, in bathrobe and pancake makeup, stalks about striking dread in the hearts of all but a few hundred in the audience. The Ghost is dead, in every sense.

The scene changes from the ramparts to the stateroom (make that, "the action changes…." The scenery never changes. Too much star appeal and not enough eye appeal, it seems. Or maybe they thought Paul Gross was eye candy enough?). Here we meet Uncle Claudius and his new wife and erstwhile sister-in-law, Gertrude. The director will not answer the second question: is the Queen a willing partner to this alliance or is she ransomed here for the sake of her realm's security? We get little to no emotion out of Domini Blythe in the role to help us, either. When you see this production, close your eyes and imagine Glenn Close whenever Gertrude speaks; you'll enjoy it more this way. She dies, poisoned.

Stratford legend Benedict Campbell plays the king-killing king, bringing some strength but little depth to the role. His character is neither here nor there, likable nor abominable. He dies, run through and poisoned.

Cast as prating Polonious, father of Ophelia and master of the "brevity is the soul of wit" speech, is Blyth Festival favourite, Jerry Franken. 'Tis a tiresome and grating performance too late skewered behind the arras. Dead.

Other principals include Marion Day, whom we were surprised would ever be allowed to tread the boards at Stratford again after her Juliet debacle, now back sleepwalking through Ophelia, in a role designed for her. She drowns.

Ophelia's brother Laertes is Graham Abbey. He misses most of the action, being away in France, but returns to snuff out Hamlet and then succumb to his own envenomed blade. Abbey, always a solid actor, could have strengthened the production had he been cast in weightier role.

David Kirby plays Guildenstern; Evan Buliung is Rosencrantz. And as you know, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but that's another story.

Paul Gross's real-life singing partner, David Keeley is everywhere, from first scene to the last, as Horatio, Hamlet's best bud. A towering individual, his performance is toned down, lest it o'er shadow the lead. He alone survives, to cradle the dying prince in his arms.

Amid all this death, we are left with one final question: where is the blood in any recent Stratford production? Hamlet's last scene of butchery without blood? What an outrage. The infamous O'Toole Macbeth with buckets of blood may not be required, but we'll take a burst capillary than nothing at all. Have government cutbacks really so hampered our production budgets that a final scene that should be awash with blood is … dead.

Stratford's Hamlet is, at worst, uneven. At best, it's a good evening's entertainment, a fresh look at a chestnut that has elevated Paul Gross's standing in our mind. He really does pull it off.

Night after night after night.

©2000 Stage Door

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Your comments and reviews are always welcome. Add them, now!

Stage Door Guest Review of
Stratford Festival, Stratford, June 28 - October 1, 2000
Review by Christopher Hoile

As I saw the majority of the sold-out house for Medea rise for a standing ovation, I could only reflect on why I found this production difficult to enjoy. In 1998 I saw Niketi Kontouri's production of this play with Karyofyllia Karabeti as Medea for the National Theatre of Greece when it came to Toronto. Earlier this year I saw Helen Schlesinger as Clytaemestra in Katie Mitchell's production of the Oresteia for the Royal National Theatre during the du Maurier World Stage Festival. And just the previous week I had seen Pamela Rabe as Orinthia in Shaw's The Apple Cart at the Shaw Festival.

Though I have previously enjoyed many of her performances, Seana McKenna simply did not have the power and range of the three actresses mentioned necessary to convince me that she is the sorceress Medea, granddaughter of Helios, god of the sun. Pamela Rabe, playing the king's mistress in Shaw's very unmythological political satire, did more in only one scene to convince me that she (though human) was a goddess worthy to be adored than did McKenna in the whole of Medea.

Part of the problem is the use of Robinson Jeffers' 1947 adaptation of Euripides' play. Jeffers seeks to make the play more human by removing almost all of the mythological references in the original. As a result, the focus is skewed toward the conflict between Jason and Medea and takes on an undesirable misogynist cast. In reality, Medea is the most powerful character in the play, able to make the moon do her bidding, as we hear. So why, then is she even trifling with the mere mortals around her? The reason is that the true conflict in the play is within Medea herself--between the human and the superhuman. Euripides is known as the first dramatist to be interested in human psychology and here he has relocated one of the prime conflicts in Greek drama within a single person. Even if one is using Jeffers' adaptation, this focus must be taken into account or much of the play makes little sense. How can Medea make her final appearance in a fiery chariot drawn by dragons or, as in this production, change herself into a bird, if from the start she does not possess powers beyond those of everyone else in the play? Besides the four deaths she causes, the play is the tragedy of Medea's relinquishing of her humanity for the sake of her revenge.

Using Jeffers' adaptation could still work if McKenna or the director, her husband Miles Potter, had a clear insight into the work. Unfortunately, Potter seems to have been most concerned with telling the story in a straightforward way while providing little or no interpretation of it. He allows an intermission, which is fatal to the steady build-up of tension in Greek drama. The play is only an hour and 45 minutes without intermission--as long and many first sections of plays by Shakespeare. Why dissipate the energy halfway through? Potter also allows McKenna to indulge in types of line delivery that vitiate any sense of her character's terrible power. In fact, through the entire first half of the play and most of the second, McKenna plays Medea alternately as if she were Lady Macbeth or, worse, Lady Sneerwell from The School for Scandal (both of which she has played at Stratford). Most of her interactions with characters like Aegeus or Jason are in the ironic, funny-voiced "Sneerwell" mode. While this does provoke much laughter and makes Medea and Jason seem like precursors of Beatrice and Benedick, I could not help but wonder how Potter or McKenna could think this appropriate to a Greek tragedy. Only in the final scene when she displays the bodies of her slain children to Jason, does McKenna approach the horrible grandeur of her character that Karabeti, Schlesinger and Rabe had shown in theirs from the very start.

As Jason, Scott Wentworth is very good at showing the callousness of his character, completely unaware of how his misogyny, opportunism and Hellenocentrism could offend his foreign wife. As Medea's nurse, Rita Howell marks her return to the Stratford festival after an absence of 38 years. I did not find her especially effective in the first part of the play, but she rises magnificently to the challenge of great speech describing the deaths of Creusa, Jason's new wife, and Creon, her father. Only at this point late in the action did I become engaged with the play.

Of the secondary characters, Bernard Hopkins and Robert Benson are excellent as the Tutor and Creon respectively, Benson making Creon's giving into Medea's request despite his better judgment seem quite believable. John Dolan as Aegeus (mispronounced by everyone throughout the play) delivers his usual bluster; luckily, it happens to suit his character this time. The chorus of Corinthian women is played by Patricia Collins, Kate Trotter and Michelle Giroux, seemingly representing the three ages of woman--the matron, the young woman and the girl. Collins and Trotter display excellent command of the verse and the mood, making one wish Jeffers had not curtailed their role. Giroux should learn a facial expression of horror different from those she uses in comedy.

Peter Hartwell, in his first engagement with Stratford, designed attractive costumes that set the scene in Greece while cleverly not placing it in any specific period. He gives McKenna a huge kimono-like robe and big temptress wig to make her seem more imposing. It is not clear why her dwelling looks like the filled-in balcony of the Festival stage. Scott Henderson's lighting is generally fine but perhaps too given to special effects. Worse could be said for Michael Becker, the sound designer and composer of music. His idea of grand ceremonial music sounded far too much like something from an old Hollywood sword-and-sandals epic. As is usual at Stratford, music was used far too often to underscore the words. In general, the costume, lighting and sound seemed like attempts to supply the magic and mystery that should have been seen in the acting. While the soundscape of ocean waves that opens the show augured well, Becker's synthesizer sound effect for Medea's transformation into a bird came straight from a Sunday morning kiddie cartoon and utterly spoiled its impact.

This is not the worst production of a Greek tragedy that Stratford has attempted recently (think of David William's Bacchae in 1993) but it is far from the best (think of Douglas Campbell's recreation of Guthrie's Oedipus in 1997). Merely telling the story is not enough. Rather both director and lead actor have to communicate a consistent interpretation of the story. In this Medea they did not.

©2000 Christopher Hoile

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