Theatre & Company opened its ninth innovative season Friday, September 11 with a volatile and funny romantic classic: The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman. Billed as "a comedy in two acts," the play ran for three months on Broadway and was soundly panned by critics. Fame came in the subsequent movie version produced in 1968 that garnered Goldman an Oscar for the screen adaptation of his own play, while Katherine Hepburn co-won for Best Actress. Theatre & Company's AD Stuart d'être of so many Scadron-Wattles has developed an interesting season of unusual delights and this first offering illustrates his unique talent in bringing seldom-produced plays to Southwestern Ontario.
Dysfunctional families have been the raision plays. Indeed, for a period of time there seemed to be few other subjects given such scope in play scripts. The family in this setting is dysfunctional, very much so, and is the subject that drives the play and provides so much of the comedy. Scadron-Wattles, however, has stripped off some of the surface shellac and developed the theme of power struggles between siblings, spouses and generations. It is a most successful interpretation and provides more depth and soul to a play often dismissed as a simple comedy. Goldman, for example, cleans up the Plantagenets (their clothes rotted off them) and has them exchanging Christmas gifts at a time when this tradition had not yet been established.
The Lion in Winter's setting is a castle at Chinon that belongs to Henry II (Alan Sapp) of England and his imprisoned queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Linda Bush). It is Christmas, 1183, and for once, they are both present and in good, yet fighting spirits. Henry flaunts his new mistress, Alais (Robin Schisler) while Eleanor plots against him with their sons, John (Andy Pogson), Geoffrey (Andrew Lakin) and Richard the Lionheart (Paul F. Muir). Thown in the mix for good measure is Philip, King of France (Mike Peng). Through their troubled relationship, Henry and Eleanor play out a brilliant, fierce and personal battle in which love, hate and power are the weapons of choice. It is a marvelous mix where there are twists and turns in the plot but the result is not important; it's the journey that entertains. Do they really hate each other, or is there a hidden respect for each other's formidable arsenals of vitriol?
Theatre & Company's stalwart band of actors has had some new blood injected this season, artistically a good decision, though not to say this company has been getting stale. Far from it. Founding members Bush and Sapp make a fine pair of loquacious duellists each having marvelous moments of hilarity and pathos. Bush, as skillfully as ever, amplifies Eleanor's inherent vanity while creating moments of pure magic in the company of Sapp's eloquent Henry. Both succeed where others have plunged into oblivion and pull it all off with a splendid pair of accents one English, one neutral. The trio of twerps, their self-absorbed and ambitious sons, all rise to the occasion and interact perfectly with their parents, and themselves. Theatre & Company newcomer Muir provides Lionheart with an excellent emotional mix between sibling jealously and warrior, while Pogson's (future King) John provides moments of true comedy with Lakin's "Geoff." In very strong support, and taking terrific chances as an actor, are Peng as the rather epicene French king, and splendid newcomer Schisler as Henry's lithesome mistress.
Creatively, special mention goes to the wonderful costumes (Sarah McKenzie), Angie Fletcher's spare but attractive set, and the true-to-life sound and lighting of the dungeon scene. Stuart Scadron-Wattles has started this season off with a bang and this sterling effort with The Lion in Winter bodes well for the coming productions. This production is a triumph for the entire company of actors, creative staff, and Theatre and Company. Go and see it before it closes.
The Lion in Winter plays at the Water Street Theatre, downtown Kitchener, and runs Wednesdays through Saturdays until September 26 at 8:00 p.m. nightly. Tickets are priced from $16 - $25, with Wednesdays and Thursdays being half-price for both students and seniors.
|And speaking of comments, here is what Guest Reviewer Jonathan Harrison has to add...|
Seems that not just the community
but the Ontario Arts Council is impressed with Kitcheners
shopping-mall-based Theatre and Company. So much so, in fact,
that artistic director Stuart Scadron-Wattles proudly announced,
after The Lion in Winters well received opening performance
Friday night, they had received from them a one time operations
The Lion in Winter opens the ninth season of Theatre and Company and the
tip of the hat to them is that, so far, theyve been existing (and thriving) on ticket sales and generous sponsors. All this in a theatre that seats not many more than 175 patrons, depending
on what the configuration of the set happens to be for any one particular show. One of the great joys of having a theatre with movable seating is that staging and seating arrangements can change whenever the need arises.
Theyve been helped in their progress to success by some fine design work and some solid play choices. Last years Shadowlands (reflecting part of the life of CSLewis) was the most successful to date and there have been others, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, that have made a useful mark on the face of local theatre. Their school matinees have proved part of their success too, as have their student acting classes. This year they
are adding weekly playwright workshops under the direction of company dramaturge Henry Bakker.
Unique to the area is their policy of using an ensemble cast. Although many local community theatres spout many of the same faces over and over, theirs is a company which exists primarily on the strengths of a core of actors. Names familiar to you from my reviews would include Linda Bush, Mike Peng, Alan K Sapp. Scadron-Wattles, at the helm of the organization is justifiably proud of his companys many and glorious accomplishments.
The Lion in Winter follows in the footsteps of so many of those successes. Solid acting and economical scenery provide an easy atmosphere in which to view this play dealing, not only with the turbulent times of Henry the Second, but with the ugliness of a family whose members dare neither trust each other nor love each other. As a history it enjoys some notoriety as being full of anachronisms. As a family feud its ups and downs are a little tiresome and as a romance (the King has a wife and a young mistress) it begs the question of who really does satisfy the needs of the King......For Arts Sake. --Jonathan Harrison
Ain't it nice to be able to laugh out loud at some good clean fun? That's what I did Friday night at Kitchener's Theatre & Company's presentation of the James Sherman play, Beau Jest. Its a funny play. In fact (according to the note I wrote in my little blue pad) it's a very funny play.
Beau Jest is a situation comedy. Young Sarah Goldman has a boyfriend she doesn't want her mum and dad to know about, preferring instead to pretend that her boy friend is a fine young Jewish boy. A doctor even. So, when she wants her very Jewish family to meet her boy friend, she rents a date. It doesn't take the audience more than half a minute to figure out what's going to happen. Sarah will fall in love with Bob (the date). Actually it doesn't take Sarah too terribly long to figure it out either, and the real boyfriend's fears are realized by the end of the first act. Actually its the second act but to get to it the audience has to sit through an interminable scene change and short of having a revolving stage with a table set for dinner, there's not much else that director Alan K Sapp can do about it. It slows the action, but seems to be unsolvable. Grin and bear it. The play is worth it.
So, even though we've all figured out what's happening, the fun comes in watching it all take shape. The poor unsuspecting parents (played by regulars George Joyce and Linda Bush) succumb to Bob's charm rather readily (so he's a nice guy, already, and what's that actor's name? Oh yeah. Andrew Lakin. Such a nice clean boy.) We approve of Joel (played by Mike Peng) calculating his suspicions with a brotherly concern but no one has much sympathy for the original boyfriend, played by Brandon Haynes (he was never right for her, that boy, and is he Jewish? Tell me what does he know from Jewish? Nada.) No. Bob is definitely the one. Being an actor, when he's not serving tables or hiring himself out as an escort, he is able to spring the occasional Jewish surprise on everyone (he was in Fiddler, see?). Yes indeed, Bob's is a winning character. And Lakin does him great justice. He's super. Alyson Scadron-Wattles plays Sarah with a generous stage presence, and a subtle touch to the reality of the comedy. It adds to the charm of the entire piece, which, in the wrong hands and under the wrong direction, could so easily be just another piece of fluff. But no. Beau Jest works and it works darn well. Most of the play takes place around the dinner table and Sherman educates a gentile audience about some of the ceremony surrounding our Jewish friends. If you've never attended a Sadir (Bob hadn't) the ceremony of the occasion may fascinate you. Dennis Horn's set meets the challenge of the small theatre head on, though I did see one or two people in the very front row having to dodge around actors' backs to get a better view.... For Arts' Sake.
Beau Jest runs to November 14th. Tickets at 571-7080.
Theatre and Company premiered Tim Slovers new play, Joyful Noise, this weekend and the first thing that Tim Slover will want to read in the paper is how well his show went over. So lets get to the good stuff right away. Tim. It was a hit.
The story is of the rejection German-born composer, George Frederic Handel, was facing in London when, after twenty seven years and thirty one operas, his career was on the skids. The London public didnt want his operas any more. He was losing favor with the king, Hanoverian George II. His finances were in great need of a hit. The Bishop of London was downright agen im. And it didnt help that he was a foreigner. Handel (Alan K. Sapp) is angry and exasperated . . . an artist with faith in himself, with integrity in his music, but without an audience and bereft of the kings sponsorship.
In the play, Handels tribulations are paralleled by those of two of Londons singers, Susanna Cibber and Kitty Clive. The very success of the Covent Garden premier of Handels Messiah is wrapped in the suffering and rejection these three main characters had seen throughout their lives. Notwithstanding the suffering of the Messiah, Himself, of course. Slover has found an intriguing story with a strong theme and has gone to town with it.
Robin Schisler plays Susanna Cibber, a syphilitic adulteress with the voice of an angel. London has rejected her, too, a fact with which we are incessantly assailed throughout the show (Joyful Noise can still be a hit, Tim, even though there were little things about it which bothered this critic).
Shelagh Kingston plays Drury Lane singer/actress Kitty Clive, who, cashing in on Cibbers disgrace, is busily building up her repertoire. Kitty gloats incessantly. (Thats another thing, Tim).
But there is always hope, provided in Joyful Noise by Smith, Pendarves and Jennens. Mike Peng plays Handels friend and copyist John Smith, and Kathleen Sheehy plays another of Handels friends (and fans) Mary Pendarves. Between them they manage to give Handel the support he needs to get through these tough times. Gerry Butts plays librettist Charles Jennens, whose part seems bitty and underwritten but an educated audience will know that it was Jennens who set the scripture in the poetry.
The opening moments of the play, in which Cibbers baby is snatched from her, suggest an evening of great menace. Its a strong attention getter and would work even better in a murder mystery. Further, the importance the playwright puts upon the seduction/rape/infidelity of Cibber seems overdone. The audience is taunted with the lurid details on more than one occasion and it smacks of CNN.
The play is episodic and the actors accommodate, location, furniture and prop limitations with finesse. The blocking does get just a little dizzying, in that one or two scenes are confined spatially to rather rigid limitations but Denis Horns set and Andrew Lakins lighting do much to accommodate the audiences imagination
Notwithstanding, the production as a whole is terrific. The acting is pure core ensemble work at its very best. The two and a half minute standing ovation was a tribute to all. . . actors, playwright Tim Slover and director Stuart Scadron-Wattles.
Joyful Noise and Theatre and Companys premier production of it were wonderful to watch. There could be no doubt whatsoever that audiences would love to see more of the same.
Review by Jonathan Harrison...for Arts Sake.