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Stratford Festival, a season of being pushed to the edge


Roy Berko

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

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

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows on this year’s theatre’s schedule:

“Man of La Mancha”— “Man of La Mancha” is an exceptionally well-conceived and performed production of one of the American musical theatre’s great scripts.  Short of having seen the original Broadway production (which was breathtakingly effective), a viewing of this staging is a wonderful second place and makes for an unforgettable theatrical experience?  Applause, applause, applause!

“Crazy For You”– “Crazy For You” is a total delight.  Anyone who loves the fun and ridiculousness of an old time musical, complete with a marvelous George and Ira Gershwin score, will have a wonderful time attending this Stratford production.

“King John”– “King John” is an impressive and compelling staging.  This is not one of Shakespeare’s blood and guts plays but grabs and holds the audience with language rather than action.  Since the script is not often done, this is an excellent opportunity to gain exposure by seeing a fine performance.

“King Lear”—“King Lear is a must see production.  Every aspect of the staging works. 

 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”– “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comedies.  Though the comic qualities were high, the Stratford production was filled with needless gimmicks and additions which added nothing to enhancing the basic script.  As evidenced by our B&B table discussion, audiences are going to either love or hate this production.   

For complete reviews of these shows go to: 

Other shows on the Stratford schedule which I did not attend are:

“The Beux’ Stratagem” by George Farquhar

“Alice Through the Looking-Glass” by Lewis Carroll, adapted for the stage by James Reaney

“Hay Fever’ by Noel Coward

“Mother Courage and Her Children” by Bertolt Brecht

“Anthony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare

“Christinea, The Girl King,” Michael Marc Bouchard

(For details about these scripts go to:

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 views on the productions and life in general.  My favorite is the well placed Avery House (, which is under the wonderful management  of John and Amanda who create breakfasts to satisfy the desires of the pickiest eater and present a variety of immaculate rooms to fit every taste. They also own Avery House Next Door, which offers lodging but no meals.

Hungry?  For moderate cost and high quality, try 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.  Based on a bad experience during our recent visit, in the future I will avoid The Keystone Alley Cafe.  I was served a raw chicken breast.  A request to the seemingly inexperienced waitress to tell the chef, received little attention.  No owner, manager or the chef appeared to respond to the serving of potentially dangerously prepared food.

Shopping?  The Touchmark Shop, 137 Ontario Street in downtown Stratford, is my wife’s favorite store.  Canadian fashions.  Canadian-nice salespeople!

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

BTW…Stratford’s printed 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 hint: The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo.  To satisfy border requirements carry your passport.  Nothing else will do.

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

Roy Berko is a member of The American Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle and Dance Critics Association. He is a college professor and author of thirty-one books. His reviews and commentaries can be found on,, NEohioPAL, “The News Herald” and “The Morning Journal,” and on his popular blog, He was selected top Editor/Reviewer in the Midwest for 2013 by