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July 24, 2009

TT: That was no lady

Life goes on, and even though I'm in Santa Fe, I filed a drama column on schedule for today's Wall Street Journal. (I'm taking next week off.) In it I report on my visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Here's an excerpt.

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If you're looking for one-stop theatrical shopping, go north to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which in summertime more or less takes over the smallish Ontario town for which it is named. This year the festival is presenting 14 plays on four stages, and the fare is richly varied. Much is being made of the fact that under Des McAnuff, the new artistic director, the festival has cut back on Shakespeare (three plays this season, five last season) and beefed up the budget for its roster of crowd-pleasing musical comedies. Be that as it may, classical theater remains Stratford's mainstay, and Brian Bedford's brilliantly zany staging of "The Importance of Being Earnest" is good enough to justify a trip to Canada all by itself.

brian-bedford-as-lady-bracknell2.jpgMr. Bedford's production of Oscar Wilde's ever-enchanting comedy of turn-of-the-century English manners is built around a gimmick that turns out not to be the least bit gimmicky: In addition to directing, he also plays Lady Bracknell, the money-hungry monster of propriety who is determined to stop Algernon and Gwendolen (Mike Shara and Sara Topham), her nephew and daughter, from marrying beneath themselves. I don't care for camped-up drag acts, but Mr. Bedford, who makes himself up to look like Queen Victoria and carries himself like a snooty gargoyle, is giving us something completely different, an impersonation so sharp-witted and closely observed that it demands to be accepted on its own daring terms....

Martha Henry's production of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," by contrast, is a satisfyingly traditional, bracingly direct ensemble piece whose only novelty is the fact that it is being performed on the three-quarter-round stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre. At first I wondered whether the cast might be a bit underpowered, but then I got on Ms. Henry's unassuming wavelength, and before I knew it I was caught up in Chekhov's sad comedy of wasted lives. To see a classic like "Three Sisters" in so plain a setting is to appreciate anew the clear-eyed intimacy of theater in the round, and Ms. Henry uses that intimacy to maximum advantage....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted July 24, 2009 12:00 AM

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