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The Stratford 2012 Season

Below is a complete list of my write-ups of this year’s season at Stratford. This last trip, I was privileged to see again a number of productions that I had seen in June or July, and in general my original opinions were confirmed. With respect to, more specifically:

Pirates of Penzance. The show has clearly gotten tighter, and Sean Arbuckle’s performance as the Pirate King in particular was much stronger this time around than it was on opening night (and C. David Johnson’s performance as Major General Stanley advanced from woeful to perfectly adequate). But my feeling about the production didn’t really change. Director Ethan McSweeny had a number of interesting conceits – the backstage opening, the steampunk pirates, the maids as adventurous Victorian reformers – but these aren’t followed up on effectively (indeed, are often abandoned altogether) and there was a general feeling that he didn’t trust the audience to understand the material without underlining.

42nd Street. As with Pirates, I felt that Arbuckle’s performance sharpened from opening week, and if anything the show charmed me more than second time around than the first. Just delightful.

Henry V. I was seated much closer the second time around, so I don’t know if it was a different vantage or a different performance, but it was even clearer to me on re-viewing that the problem with this production – and there is a problem – has little to do with Aaron Krohn’s performance. His was a thoroughly convincing portrait of the King as “shallow Hal” – the problem is that the production doesn’t provide a proper framework for understanding the performance that he delivers. I had some fascinating conversations with some veteran actors and directors about the play while I was up there, and hopefully will get a chance to go into our discussions at another time. As a production, this was my least-favorite Shakespeare of the season.

Cymbeline. There’s a theme to these re-viewings – performances that I was ambivalent about the first time around sold me the second. Cara Ricketts’s Innogen struck me as rather juvenile the first time around; second time around, she was a woman, and a powerful one. I found myself wondering whether I’d been paying attention the first time I saw it. She fully holds her own with both Graham Abbey and Tom McCamus, who I felt were the standouts originally. On the other hand, I remain unreconciled to director Antoni Cimolino’s attempts to center the play on the figure of Cymbeline, and for all that Geraint Wyn Davies plays the king with both force and gravity, I still didn’t understand who he was, or what the play ultimately was about if it’s supposed to be about him.

Much Ado About Nothing. This was my favorite of the three Shakespeares the first time around, and it’s still my favorite, which puts me a bit off-market compared to the other critics. (Cymbeline seems to be the critics’ choice this year, and it’s certainly worthy of acclaim.) Indeed, I got into heated (but friendly) discussions with other patrons who couldn’t warm to Carlson’s Benedick, but the bitter quality that is so often present in his work seemed to me to suit Benedick’s character perfectly – indeed, to harmonize better with Beatrice, and with the mood generated by the young lovers’ plot, than the more-typical caddish Benedick generally does. I can understand complaints some have about the staging – that big staircase plays hell with sight lines – but this is very much a production worth seeing, if you can.

That’s it. And now here’s a rundown of my write-ups for this year’s season:

At the Festival Theatre:

42nd Street
Henry V
The Matchmaker
Much Ado About Nothing

At the Avon Theatre:

The Pirates of Penzance
A Word Or Two
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

At the Patterson Theatre:

Cymbeline
Elektra
Wanderlust

At the Studio Theatre:

The Best Brothers
Hirsch
The War Of 1812

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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