Home » Theater + Stage

Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 season will restore focus on the Bard, classic drama

Submitted by on Jul 17, 2012 – 9:13 pm

Report: Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, a 25-year veteran of the Ontario festival, announces a season that will “put the actor and the text firmly at the center of what we do.”

By Nancy Malitz

In a widely anticipated return to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s time-tested formula grounded in Shakespeare and the classics, newly appointed artistic director Antoni Cimolino has announced that the 2013 season will offer four plays by the Bard: “The Merchant of Venice,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Othello” and “Measure for Measure.”

Cimolino’s first season as artistic director — the 61st summer since the festival was founded in 1952 under the artistic leadership of British actor and director Tyrone Guthrie — will also feature the return of some big names beloved there.

  •  The English-born actor Brian Bedford will portray the vengeful Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” marking his 28th season at Stratford. (The versatile actor was hilarious in 2009 as Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a show he also directed and took to Broadway.) Next season, Bedford will also direct Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” a stylish comedy about a ghostly haunting.
  • Brian Dennehy will take on another Beckett role — Pozzo in “Waiting for Godot.” He performed Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the 2008 Festival and recently completed a long run as Larry Slade in the sold-out Goodman Theatre production of O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” Dennehy will also star as Talbot in Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart.”
  • Martha Henry will star in a contemporary play by John Murrell called “Taking Shakespeare,” a counterpoint to Shakespeare’s “Othello,” which is also on the season bill. Henry will play a disenchanted professor who undertakes a study of “Othello” with her student, leading both of them to personal discoveries. Henry will also direct “Measure for Measure,” Shakespeare’s wry comedy on sexual hypocrisy and the temptations of power.

The Othello-themed pairing is indicative of Cimolino’s vision for the 2013 festival as a whole, as he explained at the time of the July 17 announcement — to choose plays that “complement and reflect one another, while at the same time connecting with contemporary social issues.”

Cimolino will include two popular musicals in 2013 — “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Who’s Tommy,” the latter directed by current artistic director Des McAnuff in a work that was an early success for him. McAnuff co-wrote the story of the young pinball wizard with Pete Townshend and won a 1993 Tony for his direction of it. McAnuff’s 2012 Festival production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” another rock-infused work, went on to Broadway for 116 performances and won a Tony nomination for best musical revival.

The Festival has made no secret that musicals are critical to its bottom line. When McAnuff was first brought in as artistic director — his recent Broadway hit “Jersey Boys” a notable commercial success — he was doubtless perceived as a fresh voice and a savvy hedge in tough recessionary times. Yet both McAnuff and the Festival have taken increasing heat for over-balancing the classical fare (in which the festival excels) with a greater factor of musicals — four in this season alone. The return to just two next season appears to be a corrective measure.

Cimolino, who is a 25-year Stratford veteran, directly addressed another criticism that has repeatedly emerged in the McAnuff era — that productions rely too much on blockbuster effects at the expense of the word. “I will put the actor and the text firmly at the center of what we do,” said Cimolino.

“That was the principle on which our Festival was founded 60 years ago, and I think it has become even more important today. In a culture that has become so visually oriented, I think people crave the kind of storytelling that relies above all on the uniquely compelling power of the spoken word.”

Noting the Festival’s reputation as “North America’s leading classical theatre company,” Cimolino said he also wants it to be a “world leader in artistic innovation.” He said he will establish a laboratory that is “a workshop but also a playground. It will enable us to work with artists from other countries and to form partnerships with other disciplines. The very act of trying things in new ways and expanding the skills we have is critically important to a great company examining the classics.”

Here’s the Festival’s theater-by-theater line-up for 2013:

“Romeo and Juliet”
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Carroll (Carroll is currently directing Mark Rylance in “Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” at Shakespeare’s Globe in England.)

“Fiddler on the Roof”
Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joseph Stein
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
(Feore recently directed “Oklahoma!” and “Oliver!” on the Festival Theatre stage.)

“The Three Musketeers”
By Peter Raby
Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Directed by Miles Potter
(The family-oriented swashbuckler adaptation was originally created for Stratford in 1968.)

“The Merchant of Venice”
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino, with Brian Bedford as Shylock
(Cimolino directed this season’s highly successful production of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.”)

“Blithe Spirit”
By Noël Coward
Directed by Brian Bedford
(Bedford has a long association with the works of Noël Coward, including a 1970 Drama Desk Award for his performance as Elyot in “Private Lives” on Broadway.)

“The Who’s Tommy”
By Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
Based on the album “Tommy” by The Who
Directed by Des McAnuff

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Chris Abraham
(Abraham is directing this season’s production of “The Matchmaker.”)

“Measure for Measure”
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Martha Henry
(Henry directed Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” at Stratford in 2009.)

“Mary Stuart”
By Friedrich Schiller
Directed by Antoni Cimolino, with Brian Dennehy as Talbot
(The history play turns upon the power struggle between Elizabeth I, head of the Anglican Church, and her distant cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic.)

“Waiting for Godot”
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jennifer Tarver, with Brian Dennehy as Pozzo
(Beckett’s existential comedy is a 20th-century classic.)

“Taking Shakespeare”
By John Murrell
Directed by Diana Leblanc, with Martha Henry as a disenchanted professor
(In this role written expressly for Henry, the study of “Othello” becomes personal.)

“The Thrill”
By Judith Thompson
Directed by Dean Gabourie
World première of a Stratford Shakespeare Festival commission
(Sparks fly as a disability activist confronts a champion of the right to die.)

Related Links:

Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Festival Theatre at Stratford Shakespeare Festival. (Photo by Richard Bain) Descending: Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. (Stratford Shakespeare Festival.) Brian Dennehy as Krapp.  (Goodman Theatre) 2012 National Arts Centre Award laureate Des McAnuff jams with Pete Townshend, co-writer of “The Who’s Tommy.” (Ronald Duchesne) Actor Brian Bedford. (Stratford Shakespeare Festival) Actor Martha Henry. (Stratford Shakespeare Festival)  Actor Brian Dennehy. (Wikipedia) 


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,