Two Gentlemen of Verona, King of Thieves, For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, and Dangerous Liaisons.

by Lynn on September 30, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

The summer might be winding down but the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is still going strong, with four recent openings. These plays cover the gamut of interests—from Shakespeare, musicals, comedy and a chilling drama from pre-Revolutionary France. Our theater critic, Lynn Slotkin, has seen them all and is here to tell us what to see and perhaps miss of the four.

Hello Lynn. There certainly is a lot to chose from with these four. Give us a brief idea of what each is about.

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA by Shakespeare is about two friends, Valentine and Proteus, and their search for love.

FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN, by Michel Tremblay, our leading French Canadian playwright, is his sweet, funny remembrance of his irascible, loving, larger than life, Mother.

KING OF THIEVES is a musical with book and lyrics by George F. Walker—our leading English Canadian playwright—music by John Roby. It’s about low-life thieves and high flying shady bankers and everybody sings about it.

And finally DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Christopher Hampton. Set in pre-Revolutionary France about a group of bored aristocrats who amused themselves with their sexual adventures, sometimes praying on the innocent and virtuous.

So it’s a really interesting cross-section of choice, using three of the four Stratford theatres.

They all seem so different. Are there any similarities that connect them?

I think the cross section is interesting enough to connect them. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival certainly is trying to move forward—putting Shakespeare front and centre. The festival is branching into commissions with a vengeance—commissioning the musical KING OF THEIVES.

There are other plays in development. And I like the attitude of paying respect to Canadian playwrights, certainly with George F. Walker, And Tremblay’s play, FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN.

But I have found in the last few years that the quality of productions is a huge stumbling block. In two cases of the four shows I’m talking about today, the quality is less than adequate. And in the other two the quality is stellar. I’m glad of the choice. I just wish the productions were better.

You generally like to get the bad news out of the way, so start there.

I think both TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, and KING OF THEIVES are a mess. With TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA director Dean Gabourie has set the play as a back stage comedy of a theatre company. But in order to make his concept clear he inserts a little scene from Othello and a song and dance number at the beginning, and never again during the play. If you have to do that then the concept doesn’t work. The pace and lack of humour are deadly. I am grateful for the acting of Dion Johnstone and Gareth Potter as Valentine and Proteus and a few others. But a lot of the rest of the acting falls under the category of HAM.

With KING OF THIEVES George F. Walker gives a modern spin on THE BEGGAR’S OPERA without its bite or single minded clarity. The story is a mess of confusion. The music is forgettable. It takes place in a cabaret with a narrator, why? The actual King of Thieves, seems a secondary lead to the narrator. Why? I liked the performances of Sean Cullen as the narrator and Evan Builiung as Mac, but this whole show is a missed opportunity.

And now for the good news?

FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN, is a pleasure from top to bottom. Michel Tremblay’s memory of his late mother was as a roaring, colourfully verbose power-house of a woman. And as he says at the beginning he would give anything for the pleasure of seeing her again. The play is his memories of her from the time he’s 10 to adulthood. The writing is sharp, so funny, and moving. As the mother, Lucy Peacock is vibrant, energetic, tender and nuanced. As Tremblay, Tom Rooney is believable whether he’s a curious 10 year old, or a loving adult son. It’s never gratuitous. And it’s beautifully directed by Chris Abraham.

DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Christopher Hampton is about rich aristocrats behaving badly and we can’t take our eyes off them. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, once lovers, think nothing of manipulating and destroying reputations and people. She wagers he can’t seduce a known virtuous married woman. He takes the wager with terrible results.

The production is fabulous, thanks to director Ethan McSweeney. Very smart choices. A wonderful set by Santo Loquasto. The best I’ve seen from him. And a stellar cast led by Seana McKenna as the dangerous and seductive Marquise, and Tom McCamus as the charming, seductive Vicomte.

Two wonderful productions. See both of them as soon as possible.

TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA plays at the Studio Theatre until Sept. 19.

FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN, plays at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 26.

KING OF THIEVES plays at the Studio Theatre until September 18.

And DANGEROUS LIAISONS plays at the Festival Theatre until Oct. 30