Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fuente Ovejuna Reason Enough to Cross the Border to Stratford

Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Jones encourages theatre fans to cross the border:

"Only in Stratford does a hotel desk-clerk launch, unprompted, into a deeply informed discussion of the merits of pairing the works of Samuel Beckett with those of Eugene O'Neill. Only here do you run into Christopher Plummer on the sidewalk or step into Foster's Inn and see Brian Dennehy, holding court in the grand and mostly defunct old style, regaling doe-eyed apprentices with tales of Arthur Miller and Jessica Tandy. Even the suspicious border guards at the crossing between Michigan and Ontario seem to have the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in their DNA. Say you've been to see one of the 14 shows on offer here between April and November, and you can get asked to recite the titles by an agent who already knows there's a new production of Cabaret. Don't screw them up. They'll search your car.

"Like NASCAR fans headed to Daytona, serious theater lovers (including, says the festival, more than 30,000 people annually from the Chicago area), flock to little Stratford for the twice-daily pleasures of total immersion and, more importantly, the sense that their passion is hardly a minority pursuit. In Stratford, the theater is Lord Mayor. The gossip is not of Zac Efron or Amy Winehouse, but of the Hamlet or the Shrew. It is an altered universe."

"Stratford has long been eclectic and, despite the traumas, a five-show sampling of this year's first wave of productions revealed shows that are, on the whole, of a collective quality you don't easily see anywhere else.

"On a single three-night visit you can't see all the productions (openings continue through August), and part of the trick here is choosing the right ones. But there is one that's not to be missed. And that's Laurence Boswell's dazzling production of Fuente Ovejuna.

"Drive eight hours for an obscure drama from the Spanish Golden Age that almost never gets done outside university campuses? That sounds like something only a certifiable Stratford groupie would do. Perhaps. But Boswell, a British director who has created a new adaptation of the classic text, has the kind of show that stops your mouth and stirs you heart.

"It is an epic tale of a group of peasants who overthrow a brutal tyrant. It is exquisitely acted and staged with a sensual, guttural thrust that delivers the gut-wrenching story right into your lap. Thrilling and moving, accessible and unusual, raw and intensely sophisticated, this is the kind of show that would be labeled box-office poison anywhere else in North America but that they'll be talking about in Stratford for years."

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