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Stratford – Coriolanus and friends

Fun! Food! Art! Friends! What’s not to like about a trip to Stratford?

Wednesday evening we had a Francophone gathering here to welcome Pierre, who brought a bottle of Pol Roger champagne, now there’s a classy guy. Drinking rosé and talking about France versus Canada: Jean-Marc an Acadian, Monique a Frenchwoman who married a Canadian and spent her adult life in Canada, Lynn a Canadian who married a Frenchman and spent her adult life in France. Pierre has lived in Canada only a year and just bought the house across the street. When asked what he likes about this country, he replied, “Everything.” And we like everything about him.

Thursday morning, Lynn and I got the direct bus at 10 a.m. and were in Stratford by noon. Old friends Anna Stratton, a film producer, and Tom Campbell, a visual artist, picked us up. They moved a year ago from Toronto and now own a light-filled house with a huge two-story studio in the garden for Tom – painting on the main floor and sculpture upstairs.

We had a gabfest, then off to visit two of Lynn’s teachers from Chateauguay – Zella, her Grade 4 teacher whom Lynn had not seen since 1958, and husband Jerry, who taught Lynn math in Grade 10. They reconnected through Facebook.

It was a wonderful encounter – they remembered Lynn well and were thrilled to see her again, to hear about her amazing life in Europe; and she told them how fondly she remembered them, how they’d stayed with her all those years. It meant a great deal on both sides. A beautiful warm couple, both with the kind of open face you’d trust on sight with your life.

A walk along the Avon River, where I saw friend Ellen Roseman taking a picture of her husband Edward Trapunski and ran to photobomb them. They’d also come on the bus to see Coriolanus.

A wander through town to a delicious dinner with Anna and Tom; Lynn and I had moules frites. And then off to Coriolanus, directed by Robert Lepage. This Quebecois director is now an international superstar making his debut at Stratford, and about time too. I’ve had mixed feelings about his work in the past – always brilliant, imaginative use of technology, but sometimes overdone, too much focus on moving things around and not enough on story. Well, here again – this is a difficult play, surely one of Shakespeare’s weakest, and the production did not clarify a convoluted, wordy plot. But the production values were stunning, a use of projections with gorgeous backdrops constantly changing – I don’t know how he did it, the narrowing of focus like a camera, then widening, then there’s Coriolanus driving a car; the interplay of ancient Rome and modern day – sometimes done so awkwardly – seamless, nothing out of place, even, at one point, two centurions texting each other, with clicking sound effects and emojis – hilarious, and it worked. The acting was extremely good, as we’d expect from this fine company.

The most amazing moment of all – the curtain call, when we saw that the set was actually just a box. Everything was done with video and projections. Incredible. Richly satisfying, even if obtuse and dense, more or less incomprehensible.

We walked back to Anna and Tom’s, fell exhausted into our comfortable beds, had an enormous breakfast with much talk next morning; our hosts had found a Ralph Fiennes version of the play on film that they said was better for both the lead character and the play itself.

More exploring, then lunch with another of my oldest friends, Lani, who had driven in from Ingersoll to meet us.

There is no one on earth like Lani – one of a kind, eccentric with a heart as big as her small body can hold; today she had a perfect little Lani handbag and pink and maroon streaks in her hair. After lunch we did my essential Stratford shopping at Rheo Thompson, the chocolate store, $45 worth of dark chocolate including my faves, mint smoothies and peanut butter cups. And then once more to the theatre, a matinee courtesy of Lani; I’d chosen the play Napoli Milionaria! before it opened, because of the director, Anthony Cimolino, and the star, Tom McCamus.

Hmmm. Have to say – mixed reviews. An interesting, long play with a vast cast, set in Naples during and just after WWII, about how people survive war, how they lose their souls, or don’t, when a society is upended. Could, should, be very moving. But – badly miscast. McCamus is a talented, charismatic actor, but as a voluble working class Italian – non bene. And Cimolino’s shrill actress wife as an Italian matriarch – also non bene. A few others out of place, including a young actress who had to play a woman with an uncontrollable laugh, a very difficult part, excruciating. So scenes that should have been moving were hollow and did not work. But still worth seeing, with some terrific stagecraft, including a perfect set and intermission set changes done by actors in costume.

Goodbye to Lan and straight out to the bus for the ride home. We’d bought half a bottle of red to share on the way with a little snack, so the ride was painless until we hit the heart of downtown Toronto at 7 p.m. on the Friday of a long weekend, with an Ed Sheeran concert and Fan Expo clogging an already clogged Front Street – we crawled along for an hour. It was good to get home.

Lynn, who is in charge of our rosé supply, has made friends with the cashiers at the LCBO on Parliament Street.  “Come visit again soon!” the woman said to her today. And she will.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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