AS YOU LIKE IT (to October 31)
Things hang loose in Des McAnuff’s magically conceived Arden where absolutely anything goes. The combo of five swings as they would in a jazz boite, folks pop in and out of song, implied realities linger to make themselves almost known, and each iconic element of Debra Hanson’s joyfully eclectic stage design (thanks, Magritte) insists upon a fascinated admiration.
The young here are charming yet directed right-on as they prove clumsy when they want finesse and test out others as they simultaneously test themselves. This is a beautifully touching realization of youth as alien in an adult world. They are unsettled by their love, surprised by it and speak with voices one might hear in the streets outside in day to day Stratford. The harmony of colloquial manner of speech and elevated poetic writing feels very fresh and alive.
Andrea Runge’s Rosalind is something of an “every teen” in essence, an admirable blend of untried audacity and innocence, vulnerability and passion, and she suggests a fetching inner life of open dreams. Cara Ricketts’ Celia implies largesse and elegance in her precociously poised manner and her high heels in a forest trek make a revealing class distinction, as do the five suitcases that Touchstone must carry. Together they are irresistibly endearing in their bubbling girlish sincerity, their energy of girlish conspiracy, their girlish everything. Paul Nolan’s Orlando, in turn, is full of youthful energy and appealing vigor that blend naturally with a young man’s vulnerability in the presence pursuing ladies.
Lucy Peacock’s wide-eyed and thick of brain Audrey, for whom any thought at all is as difficult as quantum theory, is delightfully ready to live anytime, anywhere. Ben Carlson is a robust and acidic Touchstone who intriguingly seems to set his own terms with the very difficult world around him. But it is Brent Carver’s Jaques, as he slinks about spouting a cynicism no doubt made of wounds, who acts as a magical tuning fork for this production. He is everpresent and cool with style, wears a bowler and topcoat like an upper class Vladimir (in fact his head emerges from the floor at one point a la Beckett), and he plays the threads of potential meaning around him as if his voice is the string of a lute. He is unforgettable.
McAnuff’s risk-taking production floats like a cloud yet makes incisive use of many of life’s cruel edges. This is a military state after all and the brutality and torture, stylized or implied as they respectively are, hit home with understated force. There are many sexual undercurrents here and also much suggestion of penile activity. McAnuff’s show doesn’t feel like theatrical depiction as much as every day life exaggerated as it might be at a party after a few drinks. One knows these people and keeps finding out more. I attended a student matinee and it was a joy to hear a young audience so in tune with every word of the play.
DANGEROUS LIAISONS (to October 30)
Under Ethan McSweeny’s direction of Christopher Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons, this production opens with an imposing chandelier sitting at midstage as its candles are lit by attendants in powdered wigs. It rises to reveal some light on an eighteenth century world of hypocritical façade, one played to the hilt with intrigues and gossip, with sex as a weapon and seedy savoir faire in bed and everywhere else. Making others betray their ideals is a game in this world where the good are too naïve and gullible and inept among cynics who would use them.
As Valmont, Tom McCamus is a smooth and verbally agile seducer who savors each double entendre and irony. He gives his character substantial fibre that informs his words. His dynamic presence draws the distant seats of this immense theatre into the realm of his persona. His ally, and sometimes queen to his pawn, is Seana McKenna as the more inwardly-played Marquise, a woman who leans as much to indifference as to relish in her evildoings. After all, in her book, “When it comes to marriage, one man is as good as the next” and “Shame is like pain, you only feel it once.”
Sara Topham is melodramatic with her virtue, petal delicate in her innocence and a walking whisper of a woman as La Présidente de Tourvel. Martha Hanry brings a worldly and experienced meatiness to her Mme de Rosemonde and Bethany Jillard is adorably inexperienced as Cécile who, once turned on, won’t be turned down.
The play is cleverly theatrical with its show-stopping bon mots and this production, incisively spoken as it is, makes sure that we get hold of each voicing of cynicism before we move on to the next. I do sense a more casual air here than I did at the play’s London opening many years ago: I feel perhaps too comfortable watching here, whereas back then I felt quietly dirty. Perhaps in so large, too large, a theatre, the nuance of malice can get lost.
KISS ME KATE (to November 6)
For the set of Kiss Me Kate, David Farley’s uses strongly defined verticals and high horizontals around the stage that make the large Festival Theatre seem an extension, a smaller and more intimate space. After all, this is a classic and stylish Cole Porter score. These confines are tentative, however, in director John Doyle’s exuberant and freewheeling show that, for the sake of a will to entertain, won’t be confined by boundaries.
The explosive costumes on this showbiz bunch are strong hued and, appropriately, every opportunity to overact in parody of classical style or to do an eardrum-blasting squeal (thanks, Lois) is taken joyfully and robustly. It’s the kind of show that starts over the top and then goes further over the top. Still, albeit the physical gags and the energy bursting everywhere, this show doesn’t lose a human centre. Like a delicious song of Cole Porter, it’s there when the production needs it.
Of course, the staging of Shrew is rife with missed cues and magnificently amateurish. The two thugs with their nasal accents are not at all suited for Shakespeare, so laughs are many. And the parallel relationships of Fred and Lilli and Bill and Lois, the duality of backstage and onstage goings on that overlap, the scatterings of sarcastic wit, these are all set up a priori to entertain. All the leads, and in fact all the cast, are strong presences who match the inherent energy of the production with their own brand of gusto. I had both legs tapping at Too Darn Hot.
Chilina Kennedy’s scene-stealing Lois is lovably air-brained and inept; her best features are obviously below the neck and we are given much opportunity to enjoy them. Her upstaging of Monique Lund’s Kate is hilarious. Lund, on the other hand, conveys a sense of poise, unforced confidence and inherent dignity that nicely balance the otherwise Lois. Both ladies, as they contort, look great in underwear. Juan Chioran’s Fred is a long, lean, classical ham of grand gestures, intensely melodramatic eyes, and the mannerisms in delivery one might find in an old recording old Henry Irving. He is often an anchor when things get too hot.