Swan Song

We’ve come to the end of our sojourn in Stratford for the summer, a much longer one than usual. I’m sure there are readers who will be relieved that I’ll be moving on to other topics than Canadian theatre. For those few of you who actually read my thoughts about the season, here’s an index to this year’s posts:

As You Like It
The Tempest and revised thoughts thereon
Kiss Me, Kate
Dangerous Liaisons
Peter Pan
The Winter’s Tale and revised thoughts thereon
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Do Not Go Gentle
King of Thieves

One the pleasures of a long association with an institution like Stratford is having the opportunity to see multiple takes on the classical repertoire; another is to see the actors, and the entire acting company, develop and evolve over time. I’m aware, however, that this gives me a somewhat skewed perspective on anything I see relative to a typical audience member who might see one or two shows in a given season, and might not return for some time. For me, a great deal of the interest in a given production, particularly if it’s a play I’ve seen a few times before, is whether the it shows me something I hadn’t seen before in the work, made something vivid that was previously dull; whether it gave an actor I admire an opportunity to do new work, and whether that opportunity was seized. I try to be “open” to whatever the director and the play are trying to do; if it doesn’t work for me, I’ll say so, but I’m still interested in figuring out what the production is trying to do, and whether they’ve succeeded on their own terms, even if they don’t succeed on mine. Which is part of why I don’t “rate” the shows I see – sometimes a very problematic production is also something I find interesting, whether because of a unique take or because of interesting work done by one or more of the actors; other times a very solid production that might be a good introduction to a theatre-goer unfamiliar with the play in question strikes me as rather flat, or I’m critical of the kind of performance a particular actor delivered when I know he or she is capable of deeper work. And I can’t capture that kind of nuance in a rating.

I doubt that makes me the ideal theatre critic, but there are plenty of other theatre critics who do what theatre critics do better than I can. All I can say in my defense is that I can only write out of my actual experience, and that I hope that experience is of interest, and maybe even useful, to readers. Honestly, I write these reviews more for myself than for anybody else – but, then again, that’s true of my blogging generally and, I suspect, is true of writers generally about much of what they write.

In any event, this season has been an all-around exceptional experience, and while part of that relates to what I myself brought to it and how I experienced it, most of the credit has to go to the artists who created it. So, hats off to them, and now they’ve somehow got to top what they did this year in 2011.