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2013 Stratford Festival, a season for Celebration

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)

On July 13, 1953, Sir Alec Guiness walked onto a stage located in a large tent in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, and spoke the first lines of what has become the internationally-recognized celebration of theatre known as The Stratford Festival.  Now housed in five theatres, offering plays and other entertainment from late April to November, it is the largest repertoire theatre in North America. The theatrical offerings are not only the writings of Shakespeare, but a variety of classical and contemporary works, including musicals.

This season, the first under Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, is dubbed, “the season to explore.”  The mission is for the audience to experience a number of plays that complement and reflect on each other.  An added attraction is The Forum, “a series of special events and activities ranging from concerts to comedy nights, from talks to debates to film screenings and play readings.”

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows on the Stratford schedule:

MARY STUART—MARY STUART is classical theatre at its finest.  Seeing this production is an experience which no theatre-goer should miss out on! Bravo to the director, cast and technical staff!

THE THREE MUSKETEERS—THE THREE MUSKETEERS is a melodramatic delight filled with swashbuckling action, farcical interludes, and bigger than life characters.   It tells the triumphant tale of good winning out over evil.  The production should delight those who want to escape the real world and live out the fantasies of days gone by.

WAITING FOR GODOT—As illustrated by the curtain call to WAITING FOR GODOT, this is a love-it or hate-it experience.  While half of the sold-out audience was on its feet shouting, “Bravo,” the remainder were passively sitting in their seats, shaking their heads in confused wonder.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF— Those who are unfamiliar with real Eastern European Yiddish/Jewish traditions, will find Shaw’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF to be an acceptable, maybe even a delightful experience.  Those who know the customs should be outraged by Feore’s tradition-light approach with her attempt to make the woes of Anatevka and the annihilation of Eastern Europe Jewry, into a universal story.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE–Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE gets a solid production at the Stratford Festival.  Its message of mercy, justice and their relationship to pride and humility is clearly etched.  Those who like the Shakespearean style of writing and plot development should be pleased with this staging.

TOMMY—Stratford’s production of The Who’s TOMMY is outstanding.  The music, staging and performances command the audience to watch and wraps them in a theatrical experience that they will long remember, creating an “Amazing Journey.”  Wow!

For complete reviews of these shows go to:

Other shows on the Stratford schedule are:

ROMEO AND JULIET (May 1-October 19)– Shakespeare’s tale of youthful passion which dares to challenge generations of enmity in the most famous love story ever told.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE–Shakespeare’s controversial look at intolerance and the vengeance it provokes. (July 30-October 18)

BLITHE SPIRIT—Noel Coward’s tale of ghosts, second marriages, séances, mischief and wit. (May 16-October 20)

OTHELLO—Shakespeare’s tragic tale of love, betrayal, vengeance and relationship destruction.  (August 4-October 19)

TAKING SHAKESPEARE—John Murrell’s celebration of the power of words, and the surprising power of the heart as an aging professor tutors the university president’s floundering son.  (July 13-September 22).

THE THRILL—A love story in which a successful lawyer and fiery activist take on a right-to-die movement celebrity with consequences that neither has anticipated.  (July 28-September 22).

What’s the lodging like?  Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet.  I like  to stay at bed and breakfasts where you get to meet new people and share your views on the productions and life in general. My favorite is the well placed Avery House(, which is under new and wonderful management (John and Amanda) who create breakfasts to satisfy the desires of the pickiest eater.

Hungry?  For moderate cost and high quality, try The Annex Cafe (38 Albert Street) and the excellent Stratford Thai Cuisine (82 Wellington Street).  My favorite is Rene’s (20 Wellington Street), a medium priced restaurant where the chef-owner holds sway in the kitchen and Margaret greets you at the door.

Packages can be arranged by   Stratford Escapes (, is an efficient way to make reservations.  For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to

BTW…Stratford’s programs contain excellent clarifying messages about the playwright or the play itself.  It’s worth getting to the theatre early to read the material.

Helpful hints: The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo.  Go on-line to the festival for directions.  The routings offered by AAA and Yahoo maps are confusing and miles longer.  To satisfy border requirements carry your passport.  Nothing else will do.

Go to Stratford, Canada!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!