Saturday, July 11, 2015

Shakespeare summer (2015)

Basically, everywhere I've lived goes a little crazy over Shakespeare in the summer.  New York has Shakespeare in the Park (I managed to go to 4 shows in 2 years back under the old rules where you waited around all morning for tickets and couldn't really buy your way in).  Vancouver has Bard on the Beach.  In Cambridge, UK, the colleges all put on outdoor productions of Shakespeare in their yards and gardens.  I managed to see half a production of Hamlet before we gave up due to the pouring rain.  In fact, it wasn't until several years later that I managed to see a live performance (at Bard on the Beach incidentally).  Interestingly, Chicago has Chicago Shakespeare, which is year-round, and a bit of Shakespeare in the parks, but far less of an institutional commitment.  Often Oak Park puts on some Shakespeare in their park, but it isn't guaranteed.

In some ways, Toronto has the most guaranteed Shakespeare in the summer.  First, there is Shakespeare in High Park, which means two plays in repertoire.  Next, Driftwood Theatre plans a stop in Toronto on their bus-tour of a Shakespeare production (this year being Hamlet).  I don't know if they've done this in the past, but this year they are making two stops in Toronto -- Todmorden Mills (which are already past) and Withrow Park from July 21-26.  Withrow Park is much more convenient for me, so I'll book for an early date in the run in case they have a rain date, and I have to come back.  There are usually a couple of Toronto Fringe productions of Shakespeare (it being royalty-free and a natural draw and all).  I saw Merry Wives of Windsor (one of the lesser plays) but it was quite well-done.  I think there is one show left tonight and one tomorrow.  Tickets here.  I'm going back and forth about the Twelfe Night (i.e. Twelfth Night), which is tomorrow.  It sounds like it is quite a good performance, and Fringe rules mean they squeeze it down to 90 minutes (same for Merry Wives), which is a lot more audience-friendly than Chicago Shakespeare or the Globe or Stratford, where plays typically run 2.5 to 3 hours.  And even with the service charge, the tickets are quite reasonable ($12 or so for advance tickets and $10 at the door).  But would it be at all fair to take my son and not my daughter, who is simply not ready?  Or would I be better off taking him to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which is probably more his speed.  I think he is probably still another year or two away from really understanding what happens in Twelfth Night.

On top of everything else happening in Toronto, the Stratford Festival is just out of town (but with a very handy shuttle bus from downtown).  You can count on 4-6 Shakespeare plays each season, mixed in with plays by his contemporaries, some Restoration comedies and then whatever else fills out the theme of the season (plus a couple of musicals).  It's almost too much summer Shakespeare here in Toronto, but of course no one is forced to go.

I'll just close with a short review of The Comedy of Errors in High Park.  I knew I was cutting it a bit close, but I had to go home first and pick up my son.  Then we just missed the bus and walked over the bridge to try to catch the 506 streetcar (I kind of wanted to show him the stop in the middle of the park).  As we reached street level, another streetcar passed.  I absolutely hate it when they bunch up so much, as it means a long wait until the next one.  It this case it was 10 minutes until the next one, and we would have missed the end of the reservation period.  So I actually had to shell out for a cab to take us up to the subway station.  (I know that they have boosted bus service on the Pape bus a little, but it doesn't really feel like it to me.  I still end up waiting quite a while and walking uphill to the subway is a bit of a chore -- downhill from the subway isn't so bad.  At any rate, if I can bike to work, it is so much better...)

I wasn't too familiar with how to reach the performance area from the subway, but it was quite easy.  Unfortunately, they took away our tickets, which had the map of the park, which proved troublesome later on.

I like the concept of Shakespeare in High Park a lot, but the seats are so uncomfortable -- basically just concrete slabs with a very thin cushion.  My legs fell asleep in one position, and I struggled to find anything that was remotely comfortable.  The bathrooms are pretty primitive as well (just port-o-potties, which come to think of it is the same at Bard on the Beach).  On the positive side of the ledger, they know this is an issue, and all the shows I have seen have been 90 minutes with no intermission. (I think they also know that an intermission in that space with insufficient facilities would be a real problem.)

While The Comedy of Errors isn't seen as quite problematic as The Taming of the Shrew, there is still a lot of overt violence in it, with both Dromios being beaten for almost any offense.  Still, they did their best to play this off as slapstick violence.  I thought the two Dromios did look a fair bit like each other, though the two masters (Antipholus I and II) really didn't.  It took my son quite a while to figure out there were two sets of twins.  While this was not officially part of the production, there was one scene where the mustache of one of the Dromios kept coming loose, and the actor had to keep pushing it back in place while going through the lines.  It was quite hilarious and definitely earned a round of applause at the end of the scene.

My son's favorite part was when the out-of-town Dromio talked about the horribly fat cook who claimed she was his wife.  I thought that was ok, but a bit overdone.  I liked the part right before the big reveal where the in-town Antipholus complained to the Duke about his very terrible day.  I also liked the slightly more serious scenes, particularly the out-of-town Antipholus wooing his supposed wife's sister Luciana and then the coming together of the long-lost husband and wife.  That was not played for laughs and was quite touching.  All in all, very well done, and I look forward to seeing how they handle Julius Caesar, most likely in early August.  (To make reservations for either play, you can go here.)  While things are a bit topsy-turvy at TransLink, I may still be going out there in September and then might catch Bard on the Beach's take on The Comedy of Errors.

My son even enjoyed the walk in the park and hoped we would come more often, though it is more than halfway across the city for us.  Things are generally not well marked in the park (and indeed there are essentially no streetlamps) and we missed the turn-off to get to the streetcar stop (in fact there is a second switchback which makes it even trickier to get to).  By the time I realized this, we were almost out of the park on its southern boundary.  As it turns out, there are streetcar stops down on the Queensway, so we just waited down there.  It still felt suitably abandoned.  Eventually a Queen streetcar (the 501) turned up and we took that all the way to Carlaw and then caught the Pape bus north.  We still got home more or less when I expected to arrive, so it definitely could have been worse.  Still, I will have to make more of an effort to learn the ins and outs of this park.  I recall that I used to have problems cutting through Central Park as well.  I could always find my way going east to west, but often got misled going west to east.  Odd that.

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