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Howard’s End, the classic novel by E. M. Forster is one that I have never read, but I did see and fall in love with the 1992 movie that stars the amazing Emma Thompson as Margaret Schlegel, Helena Bonham Carter as sister Helen, Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox, Anthony Hopkins as her wealthy husband, Henry, and Samuel West as the pitiful but lovely Leonard Bast. The gorgeous film has been described as a touching deconstruction and examination of the three social classes of Edwardian England at the beginning of the 20th Century, with the Wilcoxes as the Victorian capitalists, the Schlegel sisters as the enlightened bourgeois brimming over with humanistic and philanthropic tendencies, and the young Bast standing in for the struggling working class intellect fighting hard to survive in London as a mere clerk.

The dual plot delicately revolves around a death-bed wish by Ruth, the sickly and ignored wife of Henry Wilcox, a man of significant wealth. She asks to bequeath her beloved country house, Howards End, to Margaret, and not one of her children or husband. The Wilcox family deems this request as financially non-binding and decides to not give the house away, nor tell Margaret, the new and very dear kindred spirit of Ruth’s.  Meanwhile, Margaret’s sister Helen has taken a strong interest, mostly philanthropic, in Leonard Bast, a poor working class clerk, who slowly descends the ladder of success, mainly because of Henry Wilcox’s un-asked for advice, at Helen’s insistence and interference. As Margaret gravitates towards Henry Wilcox after Ruth’s death, eventually becoming engaged, Helen becomes more and more aligned with Leonard, and the Howards End finds its way, quite naturally, into its rightful hands. The parallels to The Inheritance are clearly striking.

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l-r Samuel H Levine, Kyle Soller, Andrew Burnap in The Inheritance Part 1 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

It’s no wonder that the ambitious playwright Matthew Lopez (The Legend of Georgia McBride, The Whipping Man) was struck by the political and social layers of Howards End and saw within a construct that could fit somewhere inside the psyche of a new generation of gay men, especially taking into account Edward Morgan Forster’s own personal battle with his visibility and hidden sexuality. Paying a certain homage to the fore-bearers of gay culture, The Inheritance tackles a tremendous amount of complicated territory, pushing its place onto the fireside mantle somewhere beside Kushner’s far more ethereal Angels in America. With a slightly aggressive and pompous stance of an overly confident pretty boy, Lopez dares us to look away from its imperfect but devastatingly emotional six acts and seven hours, even as the play pretends to be a bookend to the angelic, “most beautiful and far reaching introduction to a place and time representing the History of Gay America in the 1980’s“. Even in comparison to that, The Inheritance is most decidedly a masterpiece, almost measuring up to Kushner’s triumphant Angels as it dives head first into 21st Century queer politics and the economic discrepancies within modern culture and society. It owes itself more to the closeted E. M. Foster than Kushner though, yielding a monumental piece about the turbulent lives of a group of young, ambitious gay New Yorkers floundering and excelling, just like the Schlegels, but this go round, Forster’s sisters, who are now Lopez’s  lovers, sometime after the peak of the AIDs crisis are strutting proudly into the gay frontier of love relationships, won marriage equality, and the loss of souls to addiction and community abandonment. Spanning generations of attachments and the entanglement of lives and loves, The Inheritance bridges the themes of E. M. Forster’s novel, attaching itself to the past and present New York City, and tries to understand the legacy that threads the two together and what the two worlds owe one another.

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The cast of The Inheritance Part 1 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

One by one they wander in, taking their places on the bare rectangle platform, designed with a beautiful refined ease by Bob Crowley (Broadway’s An American in Paris) with superb lighting by Jon Clark (Young Vic/St. Ann’s A Streetcar Named Desire), solid sound design by Paul Arditti (West End/Broadway’s King Charles III) & Christopher Reid (West End/Broadway’s Harry Potter…) and gorgeously period-crossing original music by Paul Englishby (West End/Broadway’s The Audience).The space easily serves forth the delicious feast we are about to partake in and be moved by with such beautiful force. We aren’t sure who the main story-teller at the moment is, but all these men seem to be in need of some guidance to write the stories of their lives. They turn, most delicately and decisively to the wise and structured E. M. Forster, played with sweet stiffness by the glorious Paul Hilton (“The Crown“). With his steady and kind repressed hand, and as directed with impeccable care by the magnanimous Stephen Daldry (West End/Broadway’s Billy Elliot, Skylight), the hounds of a rethought Howards End are released, fighting the “writer’s valued tool, procrastination” and diving full on into the tangled web of The Inheritance.

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Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller in The Inheritance Part 1 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

It all starts with a voicemail, introducing us to the gentle and kind Eric Glass, played to perfection by the wonderful Kyle Soller (National’s Edward II) and his boyfriend, Toby Darling, a writer of narcissistic impression, played fully by the handsome Andrew Burnaps (Vineyard’s This Day Forward). “Eric Glass did not believe he was special“, we are told,  and while that affliction never enters the mind of Toby,  Burnap’s young writer saunters with an entitled pride, although his past doesn’t support his construct. He has written an acclaimed and self-described autobiographic novel, although based on that same construct, that he is now adapting for the stage. He believes in his power far more than the gentle Eric does in his own, and even as they are presented initially as the love-struck couple, we see the cracks and the mismatched puzzle pieces colliding far before the foreseeable destruction that comes in the form of a duality reminiscent of Forster’s Leonard Bast.

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Samuel H Levine and Andrew Burnap in The Inheritance Part 1 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

The contrast, especially in that deliciously sexually interaction between these two and Hilton’s Morgan encapsulates all that this play is laying out; the levels of advance and the traps we all can fall into. With Lopez replacing umbrellas with Strand Bookshop bags, the introduction of Adam McDowall, forcible portrayed by the breathtakingly good Samuel H. Levine (LCT’s Kill Floor), one of the threads that will lead to destruction and enlightenment is off and running with a clarity and authentic-ness that is quite appealing and forever heart-breaking. Levine does an excellent job playing the leading man-to-be, a stand in of half sorts of Forster’s Bast, although dramatically and financially not one and the same. His initial introduction to the cast of others:  Hugo Bolton as Jasper, Robert Boulter as Charles/Peter, Hubert Burton as Tucker, Syrus Lowe as Tristan, Michael Marcus as Jason #1/Paul, and Michael Walters as Jason #2, leaves us all, including Eric and Toby, wanting more and more of the complex creature, a lucky orphan adopted into wealth and privilege, in a way that only Toby could dream of. Levine also excels later on, ratcheting up the drama most determinedly by playing the other slice of Bast, the downtrodden and emotionally abused and discarded Leo with a powerfully emotional delicacy that makes it harder and harder to see them personified by only one person.

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Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton, John Benjamin Hickey in The Inheritance Part 1 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

In the other thread that most beautifully transcribes Howards End into this century, is also brought forth by the phenomenal Hilton as the Ruth stand-in, Walter, the ignored husband of Henry Wilcox. It’s a pitch perfect portrayal of love emerging and being discarded by the powerful and wealthy Henry, played most elegantly and intelligently by the excellent John Benjamin Hickey (Broadway’s Six Degrees of Separation). Floating alongside, deepening the attachment most majestically, we have Jack Riddiford embodying the form of the Young Walter and Burton diving in once again as the Young Henry. Hickey’s Henry doesn’t enter into the rectangle of truth until much later, as Eric and Walter’s friendship, a beautiful recreation of Redgrave/Thompson’s Ruth and Margaret, is forever formulated, but Henry’s intense personage hangs over the emotionally touching connection long before. Culminating in the most delicious re-imagining of the dinner scene straight from the Merchant/Ivory film, when Redgrave struggles  to understand Margaret and her friend’s feisty involvement in the Suffrage movement, and unable to fully digest all these women’s political and intelligent view points. Lopez does this alignment justice with a gay oral history told by the greek chorus of gay male friends at Eric’s 35th birthday party (another 35th, just like the marvelous Miss Bobbie at Companya few blocks away) that hits hard and wide, even when not exactly as embracing of all topics, including Prep and living with HIV, divesting the old stereotypes that gay sex leads to death and disease. But it is left up to Walter and ultimately Henry, to make these young men understand the agonies that his generation faced when AIDS devastated a whole swath of their generation, a result that I personally carry as deeply and strongly as many others my age.

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The cast of The Inheritance Part 2 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

The third act, filling out Part I of The Inheritance has the dynamic destruction of the narrator and the device that served the first three acts so well. The tears that flow just before each interval testify to the delicacy of the writing and poignancy of the truth that Lopez is trying to enlist.  It sometimes feels manipulative, and sometimes the stereotypes of the gaggle of gay men that surround the four or five main characters grows tiresome.  But it is the depth of disappointment that is inflamed with the Wilcox’s decision to ignore Walter’s deathbed request when the imbalances of empathy and emotional thought are more blatantly exposed. He throws forward the further collapse with the Hilary question, “Are you sure she’s going to win?” that piles on the parallels between the superficial decadence of the modern gay man’s lifestyle of prosperity and the rigid class system of Edwardian England, stomping forth the complicated inequalities that define our own need for external validation and instant gratification. The social system, although less cleanly defined still does define, with Henry Wilcox as the billionaire gay Republican at one end, and the homeless rent boy addicted to crystal meth at the other, even with the thin thread of disavowed connection between the two coming up to the surface for a grasp of air. There is “a difference in morality“, Jasper (Bolton) defiantly declares, but does wealth and privilege, sprouted forward quite remarkably by Wilcox at his brunch meeting with Eric’s friends, negate the advances of civil rights and the gay movements forward. Does this imbalance demolish the concept of equal opportunity for all, even those without a huge bank balance to buy their influence.  Leo’s poverty rings true, but it’s really in Toby’s destruction of Morgan that decidedly brings Act I to an emotional close, in its both beautiful writing and the cruel and ultimately deadly blow it brings to the narrator, Forster.

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The cast of   The Inheritance Part 2 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

After the break, I was thrilled beyond belief to arrive back at the theatre for Part II, even after the tearful spot of trouble I found myself in throughout Part I. Morgan is gone, for the most part, and the meaninglessness of faux art and Fire Island Pine partying is all the rage. Civil rights have advanced, far beyond the closeted Forster’s era, but troubles remain as clear and disconcerting as ever, with friendships fracturing, partnerships dissolving, and the abandonment of one another the biggest disease of the modern gay man. The rectangle of community rises and falls, going from communal table to dance floor to graveyard memorial, as the pack finds themselves fighting for our nature’s soul, leading us to a ghostlike apparition that digs deep into our heart and breaks all resistance down. Troy makes his re-entrance in style (“Did you miss me?) dragging the beautiful, tender, and damaged Leo down a beach boardwalk to destruction, crashing a wedding and himself in that order. “Who said anything about falling in love?” is the phrase of the sun drenched blue dance party, seeing the fall-out from a far, but I didn’t see the blessed twist that waits for Leo. His winged creative flight is as satisfying and scary as they come, seeing destruction, and than salvation in the care of the house that forever belongs to Eric, long before he was even aware how perfect it all fit.

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Andrew Burnap in The Inheritance Part 2 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

It also ushers in the magnificent, although slightly underused, Vanessa Redgrave (Broadway’s The Year of Magical Thinking) as caretaker Margaret, a beautifully structured nod on so many emotional levels to the Howards End character, Ruth, she portrayed in the film. Margaret’s story is brutal and engaging, traversing all that is at stake in The Inheritance. It’s a ‘passing-down’ moment, an Inheritance of style and connectivity with the likes of Forster, Kushner, and Redgrave, neatly encompassing all the themes of community, engagement, and art, dysfunction and alignment of love and care, acknowledging all and more that can be said of the young men who arrive at this house and their complicated and tragic need for salvation.

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Kyle Soller Vanessa Redgrave and Samuel H Levine in The Inheritance Part 2 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

The performances, even the over exaggerated, revel in the brittle difficulty of this modern age, finding truth and togetherness against the force of humanity and this difficult time we find ourselves in. “How much do I matter?” is where its power and thought-provoking center lives. Surrounded by ghosts of men who were lost before their time, The Inheritance is guaranteed to bring forth the tears, even when put off a bit here and there with its overly simplistic dive into crystal meth, sexual addiction, and exploration. It is an exhausting and exhilarating way to spend a day in London’s West End at the Noël Coward Theatre after it transferred successfully from the Young Vic, but the journey is well intended, containing truths that need to be told and a message to all to try to do better. The ending struggled to enter my soul as much as the rest of this long “400 page” play that seems to be co-created by its ancestors and the triumphant. They speak of a future that we know nothing about, one that feels too rosy and optimistic, especially with all the dreadful realness of the world that we see around us, where “faggot” is still a hostile and purposeful snarl. I hope they are right, though, and the difficulty for me to see brightness and clarity in our collective future is misguided. Fingers crossed.

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Kyle Soller, Vanessa Redgrave, and Samuel H Levine in The Inheritance Part 2 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

Forster’s Howards End, much like his Maurice, is gorgeous and deep, and as told in the beloved Merchant/Ivory film and reformulated into this epic masterpiece, The Inheritance by Lopez delivers on so many levels of observation and deconstruction in class structure and sociopolitical decrees that it is a wonder that it works as well as it does. Lopez finds his way through these themes and constructs them all most delicately and compassionately into a different time and place while holding true to the questions the story raises. It plays on Forster’s Maurice and the gay civil rights movement with clarity and sweet charm, developing ideas of prosperity and privilege that impact our fearlessness and pride. I couldn’t rise to my feet and applaud enough at the end of those nearly 7 hours, especially knowing that I’ll most likely have another chance, quite happily, to see The Inheritance once again when it floats over on Angel’s wings to Broadway, hopefully fully intact and ready to stomp its way onto the streets where this play lives.

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Paul Hilton in The Inheritance Part 2 West End. Photo Credit Marc Brenner.jpg

Vanessa Redgrave’s Ruth would, and should, be very proud.

vanessa redgrave, howards end

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Out of Town

Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park Gives Toronto a Hamlet Under the Stars

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Canadian Stage celebrates 41 years of High Park performances with a production of one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays Hamlet directed by Jessica Carmichael and featuring a luminous cast led by Qasim Khan as Hamlet,
with Prince Amponsah, Raquel Duffy, Christo Graham, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Sam Khalilieh, Breton Lalama, Beck Lloyd, Dan Mousseau, Amelia Sargisson, James Dallas Smith and featuring Diego Matamoros as Claudius. On stage July 21 – September 1 in the glorious High Park Amphitheatre

For 41 years, Canadian Stage – one of the country’s premiere producers of large-scale theatre and the largest not-for-profit theatre in Toronto – has been an accessible and foundational theatre experience for generations of Torontonians through its beloved summer theatre tradition Dream in High Park.   This magical annual event returns this July with a new production of one of Shakespeare’s definitive tragedies, HAMLET, on stage under the stars from July 21st to September 1st.

Jessica Carmichael – whose 2021 production of The Rez Sisters for the Stratford Festival was called “the most confident directorial debut at the festival in ages” by The Globe and Mail, directs a stunning cast led by Qasim Khan as Hamlet, joined by Prince Amponsah, Raquel Duffy, Christo Graham, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Sam Khalilieh, Breton Lalama, Beck Lloyd, Dan Mousseau, Amelia Sargisson, James Dallas Smith, and featuring Diego Matamoros as Claudius.  Dream in High Park is generously supported by Lead Sponsor TD Bank.

Set amidst the tumultuous backdrop of political intrigue and familial betrayal, this iconic tale follows the tormented Prince of Denmark as he grapples with existential questions of life, death, and revenge. The upcoming production is only the second time in Dream in High Park’s history that Hamlet has been produced and this year’s show serves as a companion to Canadian Stage’s hotly anticipated Canadian Premiere production of the 2022 Pulitzer prize-winner, Fat Ham.

“Hamlet is one of the most loved and iconic titles in Shakespeare’s canon and also one of the most thrilling psychological dramas in the theatre,” says Canadian Stage Artistic Director Brendan Healy. “We are incredibly excited to be able to offer Toronto audiences the opportunity to experience a new production of the original text in the park this summer, and then to also discover the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning adaptation FAT HAM, later this seasonWe are also thrilled to introduce our audiences to Jessica Carmichael, an exceptional director whose work at Shaw and Stratford has proven her to be an essential voice in this country.”

Coming off a breathtaking performance as Eric in The Inheritance, Canadian Stage is delighted to welcome Qasim Khan back to its stage. Khan, in fact, performed in the one previous production of Hamlet in 2016 as Horatio, now stepping into the titular role. He now leads a luminous cast comprised of many of Canada’s most talented actors, both seasoned and up-and-coming.

Largely considered one of the most complex and coveted roles in classical theatre,

Shakespeare is thought to have written Hamlet in 1599 or 1600 and the play is most likely to have first been performed in 1601.  It has been translated into over 75 languages in the over 400 years since publications, and, like many of Shakespeare’s texts, coined several phrases now embedded in the English language including; ‘to the manner born’, ‘cruel to be kind’, ‘the primrose path’, ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’, ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance’, ‘something is rotten’, ‘more things in heaven and earth’, ‘the time is out of joint’, ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, ‘this mortal coil’, ‘hoist with one’s own petard’ – and Gertrude’s line, ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’.

Hamlet runs July 21st through September 1st.  Performances take place Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm with Sunday performances now offered at 7:00pm. For tickets and information, click here.

Photo by Dahlia Katz.

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Events

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Bradley Jaden In A Special Edition

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“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents”, is  filmed live every Wednesday from at the Hotel Edison.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Bradley Jaden. This is a special episode as I was at Bradley Jaden’s concert in NYC and asked to interview him, but he was flying back ASAP to London to do two sold out concerts there. This was very last minute but I am so glad it happened.

I am so grateful to my guest Bradley Jaden.

Suzanna, Bradley Jaden and Rommel Gopez

Thank-you Magda Katz for videoing and creating the content to go live, Rommel Gopez and The Hotel Edison for their kindness and hospitality.

We are so proud and thrilled that Variety Entertainment News just named us one of Summer’s Best Picks in the category of Best Television, Radio, PodcastsThe company we are in, has made us so humbled, grateful and motivated to continue.

You can catch us on the following platforms:

Pandora:

https://www.pandora.com/podcast/live-from-the-edison-hotel-times-square-chronicles-presents/PC:1001084740

Stitcher:

https://www.stitcher.com/show/1084740

Spotify:

Amazon:

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/e3ac5922-ada8-4868-b531-12d06e0576d3

Apple Podcasts:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/live-from-the-edison-hotel-times-square-chronicles-presents/id1731059092

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Out of Town

Stratford’s Romeo and Juliet Satisfies But Never Truly Finds its Originality

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Drumming up a goddess in white, she sings from the opening monologue that lays the groundwork for Stratford Festival‘s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a sparkling starry opening, drawing forth images of star-crossed lovers that look to the heavens for guidance. Captivating and engaging in its creation, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is getting the full treatment this year playing well and true. Directed with determination by Sam White (Stratford’s Wedding Band), the production digs its heels into the traditional, holding on to a visual that feels more historical than forward floating. It’s a pleasurable outing, giving these fine actors ample opportunity to do what they are trained to do, with the older guard finding an authentic connection to the material. At the same time, the younger, less seasoned souls deliver their lines compassionately and with respect, but did not manage to find an earthy grounded nature to their unpacking. They say lines cause they are written, not because they feel them moving through them.

Jonathan Mason as Romeo and Vanessa Sears as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

The famed star-crossed lovers, dressed in color-coded costumes by set and costume designer Sue LePage (Shaw’s Brigadoon), are utterly sweet and endearing in the first half of their love story. Romeo, played warmly and compassionately by the handsome Jonathan Mason (Stratford’s Little Women) finds ample opportunity to give us a youth who falls quickly in love with his Juliet, played wide-eyed and giggly by the lovely and captivating Vanessa Sears (Stratford’s Twelfth Night). Following the straightforward path to love and marriage, these two come together as if following the stage directions of the play, rather than us feeling the electricity in their actions. It does feel sweet and engaging when they talk about love to others, especially in the first half, but when the actually falling in love happens, it comes too fast and somewhat forced, saying lines about love, attraction, and devotion as if they know they are famous lines, long before we even feel the spark of lust or fascination flying between them. In the second half, filled with despair, grief, and anger, these two struggle to find the emotional truth hidden deep down inside their young hearts. They stay, following the text and emoting as instructed. The lines are delivered with force, but never feel like it is in their bones or their flowing in their red hot blood.

From left: Glynis Ranney as Nurse, Andrew Iles as Mercutio, John Kirkpatrick as Balthasar, and Steven Hao as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

The same can not be said of Glynis Ranney (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing) and Scott Wentworth (Stratford’s Twelfth Night) as the Nurse and Friar Laurence, who find clarity and deep connection to every line uttered. Ranney’s Nurse gives a well-rounded and clever portrayal that is both touching and lovely, making every line have a personal journey and meaning. And “Holy Saint Francis“, Wentworth’s Friar also unpacks frameworks and understanding into every movement he makes and every line spoken. It feels rooted in the here and now, and motivated by what is happening around him and what is being said to him. This can not be said of the majority of this production.

The same can be said of the always reliable and talented Graham Abbey (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing) as Capulet, Juliet’s father, who has to manage his emotional state through a range as large as a roller coaster. He first has to be open and accepting when he sees Mason’s Romeo at his masked party, a party that is filled with sexual tension and energy. Abbey’s Capulet must chastize the overzealous (and not all that believable) Tybalt, portrayed by Emilio Vieira (Stratford’s Grand Magic), to settle his fury down. He instructs him to just enjoy the party, as Romeo is doing no harm, and he hears he’s quite likable. Yet, later, he must shift to the father figure who is ready to throw his daughter down and away almost violently when she says she does not want to marry the good, somewhat bland, Paris, played by Austin Eckert (Stratford’s Twelfth Night). It’s a difficult and dutifully performed swing that Abbey must make, and we believe it, drinking the shift in authentically.

Unfortunately, Jessica B. Hill (Stratford’s Richard III) as Lady Capulet doesn’t achieve the same level of understanding. She, like the somewhat forgettable 郝邦宇 Steven Hao (Tarragon’s Cockroach) as Benvolio, the underused Michael Spencer-Davis (Stratford’s Love’s Labour’s Lost) as Montague, and Antonette Rudder (Stratford’s Hamlet-911) as Lady Montague, never really finding a strong footing within this rendering. They all, like the two leads, deliver fine presentations, without discovering a unique framework or motivation for them to actually speak those famed lines. [On a side note, I’ve always been curious about the disappearance of Lady Montague in the second half for reasons of plot. leading me always to question why Shakespeare doesn’t include her for that emotional final scene when all the other parents and players arrive. I wonder if some double-casting complications prevented Romeo’s mother from being present in that final scene. Did the same actor also play the Friar? Or Paris? The reasonings are there and reported by Montague, but they don’t seem necessary to the plot or the play, and are somewhat imposed upon.]

Andrew Iles as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

One of the better performances of this production lies within Andrew Iles (Stratford’s Three Tall Women) and his double-duty portrayal of Mercutio and another hooded role that surprisingly makes us sit up and take notice in a production that does not have a lot of surprises within. The sword scenes are generally thrilling, produced by fight and intimacy director Anita Nittoly (Stratford’s The Rez Sisters), although the epic battle between Romeo and Tybalt felt awkward and misrepresented. Romeo doesn’t actually stab the fiery cousin of Juliet, but strangles him in a way that looks more like a neck and shoulder rub than anything remotely deadly, yet they continually speak of blood being shed. Now in a production that took a lot of liberties with the language, this could be forgiven, but this is not the construction of this Romeo and Juliet. It’s literate and determined to follow the text to a level that almost hurts their unpacking. And speaking of literate, Thomas Duplessie (Stratford’s Grand Magic) as the illiterate servant Peter also manages to find moments of charm and engagement that feel honest and clever. I wish the production took more chances like it did with these two, delivering moments of unique thoughtfulness and earthiness that live deeper in the soul and soil of the play. Many in the cast, thanks to White’s direction need to dig down much deeper below the obvious surface to create more complex formulations, contemplations, and emotional states that would make us sit up and pay more attention. Giving us a slightly different vantage point to unpack, Like they did with the apothecary casting.

But as delivered here on Stratford’s Festival Stage, with lighting by Louise Guinand (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs) and musical composition and sound design by Debashis Sinha (Stratford’s Casey and Diana), this Romeo and Juliet delivers a Shakespearean staple that isn’t all that deep or unique. It’s genuinely straightforward and unpacked in a clear obvious manner – beyond the seasoned pros who find some captivating weight. It keeps us tuned in but not dazzled or fascinated by this well-known story. This Romeo and Juliet needed some freshness and a formula that didn’t feel so standardized. It needs some originality stitched inside its well-wornness. The Stratford Festival can do better than this. It’s definitely not unwatchable nor is it terrible, but it does hang out in the world of fine and functional, and I was hoping for more. I guess I’ll have to hold my breath and wait to see what is in store for me this week when I see the new West End production of Romeo & Juliet, directed and produced by Jamie Lloyd, and starring Tom Holland as Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet.. It just opened a week or so ago at the Duke of York’s Theatre, and I’m seeing it tomorrow. Cross your fingers for me. And for these two star-crossed lovers.

Jonathan Mason as Romeo (left) and Vanessa Sears as Juliet with Scott Wentworth as Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

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Stratford Festival’s “La Cage Aux Folles” Is The Pride and Joy of This Ontario Town

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Surrounded on all sides by an excited opening night crowd, that’s not exactly gaudy, but certainly glittery, Stratford Festival gloriously presents a thrilling production of the 1983 Tony Award-winning musical, La Cage Aux Folles. With a delightful endearing book, written by the wonderful Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song), showcasing all those memorable songs by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!), the production soars with just the right balance of comedy and tragedy, dressed up in heels and draped in sequins. Based on the 1973 French play and 1978 film by Jean Poiret (Douce Amère) of the same name, the show hilariously and tenderly tells the story of an older gay couple hopelessly in love and trying to survive change and hurtful propositions. All the while forever trying to hold it all together for the sake of family and their Saint Tropez nightclub which features a cascade of drag queens that will amaze and entertain.

Steve Ross as Albin playing Zaza (centre) with from left: Jordan Goodridge as Mercedes, Josh Doig as Chantal, David Andrew Reid as Bitelle, Eric Abel as Hanna, David Ball as Phaedra, and George Absi as Angelique in La Cage aux Folles. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Opening up the stage like a glorious, glamorous French version of that dirty M.C. at Cabaret, Georges, played lovingly by Sean Arbuckle (Stratford’s Casey and Diana), gestures us into the glittering space, dazzlingly designed by set designer Brandon Kleiman (Theatre Rusticle’s The Tempest), with spectacular lighting by Kimberly Purtell (Crow’s The Master Plan) and a solid sound by Brian Kenny (Musical Stage’s Kelly v. Kelly), with gentle loving coaxing. When not leading the show forward, Arbuckle’s Georges spends his days and nights taking care of his self-created family; namely a stable of queens called the fabulous Les Cagelles, played electrically by Eric Abel (Stratford’s Frankenstein Revived), George Absi (Toronto’s Chris, Mrs), David Ball (Shaw’s Sweeney Todd), Josh Doig (Stratford’s Spamalot), Jordan Goodridge (Drayton’s The Music Man), and David Andrew Reid (Shaw’s Brigadoon), kicking it up high and hilarious during every spectacularly show-stopping number. The dancers, masterfully giving it their all in acts choreographed by Cameron Carver (Stratford’s Richard II), are a special kind of tucked treat, dressed deliciously by costume designer David Boechler (Stratford’s Spamalot). They are fierce and funny, finding unique characterizations within each, but the true star of their stage is Albin, or should we say, Zaza, Georges’ romantic partner and the club’s premier attraction. And a lot of Georges’ work is managing, loving, coaxing, and fawning over the delicate demeanor of his temperamental but captivating star.

Sean Arbuckle as Georges (left) and Steve Ross as Albin in La Cage aux Folles. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Now “chase me!” Albin cries out in the giddiest of girlish ways possible as Steve Ross (Stratford’s Something Rotten!) gives us a touching and vulnerable Albin this is as impossible as he is adorably sweet. Ross sensationally shows us what a wonder he is, playing it wild and free, while also finding a way to sneak into our emotional hearts. The show is ultimately a farce of epic sweet, gay proportions, that unwraps the emotional truths of these two behind a story stitched with some very solid ideas about shame and the pain of hiding oneself authenticity. With Albin at the core of this show, feeling vulnerable and hurt, but standing tall for his truth, the show unpacks layers upon layers of emotional truth, pain, maternal love, and disappointment, while also gifting us a whole lot of reasons to laugh.

Outrageously funny and deeply lined in love, La Cage Aux Folles gets this high-wired balancing act right, not only in its great one-liners, but in its gentle unwrapping of homophobia and the farce of the straight ‘normal nuclear‘ family. Thanks to the fine work of music director Franklin Brasz (Stratford’s Chicago) bringing it all solidly to life, the show, the ideas, and the musical numbers blend in and shine as bright as can be. “I Am What I Am” is no accident, it’s a rallying cry and a song of determined visibility that feels as powerful today as it did when it first made its way to the stage. And the song “The Best of Times” feels as solidly engrained in our culture as any other.

Opening on Broadway in 1983, La Cage broke all kinds of barriers, giving over the center stage spotlight to a gay couple, the first of their kind in a hit Broadway musical. The show lovingly focuses its heart on a long-term homosexual gay couple who aren’t dealing with tragedy or sickness. They are a couple like any other, in a way, just living their love in full support of one another. Georges and Albin are presenting their gay lives as authentically as possible, being as glamorous and feminine as they so desire. It might not feel as radical as it must have back in 1973 when the original play premiered in France. But the grand anthem and the emotional truth still hit home, reminding us all that hiding and disguising who we are is as relevant and as hurtful as ever.

From left: Chris Vergara as Jacob, Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Mme. Dindon, Sean Arbuckle as Georges, James Daly as Jean-Michel, Heather Kosik as Anne and Juan Chioran as Edouard Dindon in La Cage aux Folles. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

The framing never feels overly pointed or heavy-handed, yet when Georges’ grown son, Jean-Michel, solidly portrayed by James Daly )Off-Broadway’s Dracula – A Comedy of Terrors), returns to his familial home to the two parents who raised him, he comes in with an announcement that is embraced, after a bit of wrangling, and an ask that is sharper and more hurtful than most kitchen knives. Jean-Michel finds himself in a bind, announcing to his father Georges that he is engaged to be married. And announces that the woman, Anne, gorgeously portrayed by Heather Kosik (Toronto’s Chris, Mrs), he has fallen in love with is the daughter of a dangerous close-minded, right-wing politician by the name of Edouard Dindon, played well and clear by Juan Chioran (Stratford’s Something Rotten!). Dindon, his Puritan wife, Marie, played obediently and wisely by Sara Jeanne Hosie (Musical Stage’s The Wild Party), and their lovely daughter are on their way to meet Jean-Michel’s parents so they may give their blessing.

Naturally, there are more jokes and jabs than one can imagine on all sorts of reversed formulations that keep us laughing along the way, but it’s also hard not to notice, and feel, as the son stabs forth the kicker of the evening. Jean-Michel wants and thinks he needs Albin, who basically raised this young (now very handsome and tall) man as his own, to hide himself away from the judgmental eyes of the overly righteous parents of the woman he loves. Daly does a fine job presenting this cruel idea to Georges as if he’s asking for a small simple favor. But for his true parents, and for anyone who knows, it’s a shameful, cruel thing to ask. For a moment or two, mainly because of some fine performances, we only mildly hate this young man for asking the impossible, of his father Georges, and his pseudo-mother, Albin.

Members of the company in La Cage aux Folles. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

To further shove the knife in deeper, he requests George to ask his biological mother, “Sybil who?” to come to the dinner party and stand in for Albin when Ann’s parents arrive. And when she cancels at the last minute, as she always does, it seems, Albin finds the courage and determination to rise up and engage. And for anyone, which is almost all of us who has seen the magnificent film adaptation, “The Birdcage”, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, we have a good idea how this will all play out and end. There will be gorgeous laughs from within and from us, centered around inappropriate dishes flying through the air, courtesy of their faithful and fierce manservant, Jacob, effervescently portrayed, sometimes a bit too big, by Chris Vergara (Rainbow Stage’s Rent), and automatic physical reactions to moments that give it all away, thanks to their neighbor, Jacqueline, played gloriously well by Starr Domingue (Stratford’s Something Rotten!). And the whole thing will be quite the drag, in the best and most glittery way possible.

With all that glamorous glitter and high kicks by men in heels, those fiendishly fun flashy numbers, and all those wild laughs delivered by a pained pseudo-mom (and ourselves), La Cage Aux Folles still rings engagingly honest, touchingly endearing, and endlessly entertaining as it plays itself out, beautifully and hilariously, on the Stratford Festival stage. I’m not sure what the old-time festival audiences will think of it all, but, as directed by Thom Allison (Stratford’s Rent) with care and a grand eye for fun and all those complex feelings, it would take one cold dark heart to not walk out of Stratford’s Avon Theatre singing those songs and feeling completely invigorated by their visit to La Cage Aux Folles. The cabaret might be the pride of Saint Tropez, but this revival has to now be one of the joys of Stratford. It truly is the best of times in this small Ontario town, with this show and that other hilariously well-done musical, Something Rotten!, together, walking down Ontario Street arm in arm, feeling as handsome and tall as a Festival could.

Steve Ross as Albin playing Zaza in La Cage aux Folles. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

For more information and tickets, go to the Stratford Festival website, or click here.

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Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline: Illuminated Majestically at the Stratford Festival 2024

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Tom Patterson was a man of great vision. He was a Stratford, Ontario-born journalist who founded the Stratford Festival, then called the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, the largest theatre festival in Canada. He saw something in this small town that maybe no one else saw. Now his namesake theatre, the lovely Tom Patterson Theatre is home to two ultra-captivating and illuminating revivals, shedding light on two classics that sometimes can overwhelm and conquer others. But not here. Both productions; Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, are epic and transformative, digging into complex themes steeped in intrigue, with battles for control and power over others at their core. And both are delivered forth with a vision and preciseness that astounds and illuminates, ricocheting light and understanding that is seldom felt when watching these timeless tales.

Members of the company in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Directed with a magical force of nature by Esther Jun (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs), Shakespeare’s complex and daunting Cymbeline, contains plot points that could easily overwhelm and entangle those in charge. They twist and envelope, like tree roots in the earth, but here at the Stratford Festival, Jun expertly finds a way to unravel and expand the many threads that are so thick and entwined. So clear and determined is her stance that the resolution in the final scene, which generally feels endlessly complex and never-ending, is greeted with clever wit, so much so that the main queenly character voices the overwhelming onslaught of information with an exasperation that almost every audience member can fathom and engage with. Yet we are in it, giving ourselves over almost immediately after the first whispers that come within the smoke.

Oh lady, weep no more,” we hear, tunneling in from the depths of mystic destruction, as the play pulls us under its spell, thanks to the other-worldliness of both Jupiter, played by Marcus Nance (Stratford’s Frankenstein Revived), and Philarmonous, the Soothsayer, portrayed by Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks (Neptune’s The Play That Goes Wrong). We are enraptured in those first sharp strains of white light, detailed and dynamically delivered by set and lighting designer Echo Zhou (Tapestry Opera/Crow’s Rocking Horse Winner), and we bow our heads to their power.


Allison Edwards-Crewe as Innogen and Jordin Hall as Posthumus Leonatus in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou

Based on parts of the Matter of Britain, the dense legends that focuses their eye on the early historical Celtic British King Cunobeline, this Shakespearian tragedy (although some refer to it more as a romantic comedy) is crafted and ushered forward with full-blown epic style, worthy of a stage production of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, thanks to costuming by Michele Bohn (Stratford’s King Lear), the composer Njo Kong Kie (TPM’s The Year of the Cello), and sound designer Olivia Wheller (Factory’s Here Lies Henry). It feels as powerfully big and dense as its source, legendary and mystically, while unpacking emotional truths that feel authentic and human.

The gender shifting from King to Queen Cymbeline, played majestically by the always fascinating Lucy Peacock (Stratford’s Three Tall Women), now married to the evil conniving Duke, portrayed by Rick Roberts (Stratford’s R+J) in full fiendish delight, finds weight and credence in their mutual unraveling, dismantling concepts that go far beyond even Shakespeare’s grand and complex ideas. Emotionally centered around the secret marriage between the Queen’s daughter, Innogen, sharply portrayed by Allison Edwards-Crewe (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing), and the worthy, but low-born Posthumus Leonatus, dutifully played by Jordin Hall (Stratford’s Grand Magic), their act of love upends the court, as Innogen was orchestrated to wed the Duke’s only son, her stepbrother, Cloten, played flamboyantly by Christopher Allen (Tarragon’s Redbone Coonhound), and rally the land against the tribute-demanding Roman Empire.


Irene Poole as Pisanio with Rick Roberts as Duke in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

And that’s just the beginning of this complicated upheaval. By telling the interwoven tale of love, forgiveness, and the interconnectivity of all, “like the roots of trees“, Stratford’s Cymbeline, overflowing with the most talented of actors, magnificently finds clarity, as it speaks to the world at large. Moving through the in-humanity (and humanity) or trauma, war, misogyny, decolonization, and this abstract code of patriotism and nationalism, the cast; particularly the incredible Irene Poole (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs) as the mindful servant Pisanio; the seductive Tyrone Savage (Stratford’s Love’s Labour’s Lost) as the Roman schemer, Iachim; and Jonathan Goad (Stratford’s Spamalot), Michael Wamara (CS/Obsidian/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is), and Noah Beemer (Stratford’s A Wrinkle in Time), as the three honorable cave dwellers, Berlarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, dig into the melodrama, as well as the authentic emotional attachment required to make this 3-hour play tick forward and engage. The play is unpacked with the boldness of separated lovers and stolen sons, imprisoned and banished, seduced and assaulted for chastity and heroic honesty.

Faith plays a tenuous part in the unraveling at hand, with the two lovers forced apart by parents unwilling to hear or engage, paralleling the soon-to-be-seen Romeo and Juliet, right down to the poison that isn’t exactly deadly. But the true art in this presentation is how smoothly and wisely it moves forward through the difficult web of plots and failures. The more seasoned company members know how to find the deeper subtleties within that knotty text, while the newer, younger members sometimes struggle with the emotional complexities tied within, but only slightly and in comparison. Yet it comes together, binding us into the ideas of forgiveness, compassion, and understanding, even as we swirl alongside the Queen in those last few moments of untangling and debriefing.

Lucy Peacock as Cymbeline (left) and Allison Edwards-Crewe as Innogen with from left: Julie Lumsden as Helen, Tara Sky as Queen’s Guard, and Caleigh Crow as Lady in Waiting in Cymbeline. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

In the same manner that Jun orchestrated a compelling and understandable Cymbeline, director Molly Atkinson (Shaw’s Prince Caspian) unwinds the detailed Henrick Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with a gentle force worthy of the epic guns unloaded and lent. Utilizing a compelling new version by Patrick Marber (“Notes on a Scandal“) from a literal translation by Karin and Ann Bamborough, this Hedda carries a bitter rage that rarely stays hidden or held but is casually shot out with a direct aim and purposefulness by a privileged beauty used to getting her way. Sharply defined by the wonderful nuanced Sara Topham (RTC/Broadway’s Travesties), Hedda, if she has to suffer in any way, shape, or form, will not do it in silence or on her own. Her boredom burns her from the inside out, shifting the light of frustration on two pistols in hand, fired casually at anyone she chooses to play with or against.

Dressed impeccably by set and costume designer Lorenzo Savoini (Soulpepper’s De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail) and drenched in epic light and shadows by designer Kaileigh Krysztofiak (Soulpepper’s Wildfire), the malice and rage find their home in the bare room and the precise stitching of the fabric of her creation, pulled at by outside passion, betrayal, devotion, and internal disappointment. Hedda is trapped, happily at one time by her father, but more then unhappily by her husband, the loving Tesman, portrayed simply and compassionately by Gordon S. Miller (Stratford’s Grand Magic).

Brad Hodder as Lovborg (left) and Gordon S. Miller as Tesman with Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

Their marriage is one-sided and corrupt, created simply because Hedda felt it was time.Now, trapped in a marriage and a house that she does not want, feeling the mistake in every bone of her bored body, the soul of Hedda Gabler, now Hedda Tesman, the married woman, believes herself to be more the regal father’s daughter than her intellectual husband’s wife. She was once the detached privileged woman who enchanted the men of this town with her beauty and cool exterior, but now, disturbed by and within her marriage, she finds herself caged in a new house that, while being more extravagant than they can really afford, “smells like old lady” and death. And it will never bring her any contentment unless she seizes control.

Backed by a compelling soundtrack crafted by composer Mishelle Cuttler (Arts Club’s Someone Like You), the unbearable heaviness of her new life is dragged out slowly and cautiously, noted and displayed in the photos of a honeymoon that was more trying than passionate. The housekeeper Berta, played with a great attention to hesitant details of subservience by Kim Horsman (Stratford’s A Wrinkle in Time), and Auntie Juliana, meticulously portrayed by Bola Aiyeola (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs), showcase a realm and stature that Hedda can not tolerate. Newly married, unhappy, yet brilliantly bored and frustrated, this power-hungry and ultimately powerless Hedda finds silly pleasure in manipulation, cruelty, and belittling others, but on a more complex terrain, twisting and torching the hearts of women like Mrs. Elvsted, played compassionately by Joella Crichton (Stratford’s Wedding Band).

Tom McCamus as Judge Brack and Sara Topham as Hedda in Hedda Gabler. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

It’s shocking that people like Mrs. Elvsted keep returning to the abusive parlour, as if they might be greeted by a more mature and caring soul, but that kind of punch is rarely served here honestly. Other women are playthings to this Hedda, as it is clear to her that they hold no real power over anything that matters. Judge Brack, played to subtle perfection by Tom McCamus (Soulpepper’s King Lear/Queen Goneril), on the other hand, holds a triangular association to something more akin to excitement and advancement. She adores the offensive and defensive fencing that occurs in the presence of these self-important powerful men, particularly McCamus’ deliciously delivered Judge who never fails to find the base truth. But her passion is completely enflamed by the wildness and intellectual freedom that lives, drunkenly, inside Lovborg, played compellingly by Brad Hodder (Mirvish’s Harry Potter…). It’s so connected to her personage and her power that it engulfs her focus, and she must either control it by having or destroying its nature. There are few in-betweens.

Topham’s Hedda carries cowardice hidden just below her haughtiness magnificently, masked by a bravery that doesn’t exist authentically inside her. It appears she holds herself tall and determined, but only if she feels she has the upper hand on those around her. She’s desperate and impulsive, selfish and ungrateful. Her true calling, as she tells us with a laugh, is to “bore myself to death“, with a stance that is defiantly fueled by rage, fear, jealousy, and helplessness.

She tests the waters of her sweeping control, trying to distract and entwine. Yet, when she discovers that her ability to enthrall has evaporated before her very eyes, thrown to the sidelines by the man she thought she had unlimited hold over, that demise is overwhelming. Everything she believed in and held on to just went up in smoke, granting us an ending that is as sharply defined and shocking as it is beautifully staged. There is no saving in this space for her, and even though the last line, delivered almost too casually by the Judge lingers in the complicated air feeling cold, distant, and detached from emotion, the overall darkness cuts sharp and true. It hits like an angry Hedda slap out of nowhere, in a way that this play hasn’t hit in a long time. Burned from the act that just played out before us, the sneak bullet attack in a way, fires out into our souls without warning. “I can’t live like the others,” and so she doesn’t. That idea, and the way this Hedda takes control of her one parloured arena, gets embedded in our hearts as painfully as it does her temple, leaving its mark and its emotional disturbance for us all to carry home with us.

For more information and tickets, go to the Stratford Festival website, or click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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