Sunday, August 14, 2005

Stratford Diary – Part II

We saw two plays yesterday, bringing the total to five in three days. The matinee was The Lark by Jean Anouilh and translated/adapted by Lillian Hellman. It is a re-telling of the story of Joan of Arc, starring Amanda Plummer as Joan and directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. It was wonderful. I won’t go into the backstory of the whole play (you can read it here), but it was written in the shadow of the French occupation by Germany and World War II from Anouilh’s persepective, and Hellman’s adaptation, written while she was in the midst of McCarthyism, doesn’t pull any punches in attacking those who conform their conscience to fit the politics of the time. That was a powerful message then, and it works very well today. (The Stratford Festival always seems to find one play in their season to gently tweak the noses of the 40% of their audience that comes from the United States, and this was the play this year.)

Last night was The Tempest. This is the last production for veteran actor William Hutt. The Festival stage, the mainstay of the theatre since its founding in 1953, which has been turned into everything from the moors of Scotland to Lady Teazle’s drawing room to a shtetl in Russia, was stripped to its basic form of the three-quarter thrust envisioned by Tyrone Guthrie and designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch (and imitated, successfully or otherwise, by many theatres around the world).

The Festival Stage

I can’t count the number of plays I’ve seen here starting in 1970, and how many plays I’ve seen with William Hutt: King Lear, The Imaginary Invalid, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Tartuffe, and even in drag as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. All of his roles were insightful and met the highest criterion of the actor’s craft: he became the character. Last night I didn’t think of him as Willam Hutt playing Prospero; he was Prospero.

Shakespeare provided him with a perfect exit in the epilogue of the play as he humbly asks for the approval of the audience for the masque we’ve just seen:

As you from crimes would pardoned be
Let your indulgence set me free.

Then he turned and slowly walked upstage and through the door and into the comfort and quiet off stage.