Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends and blogging comrades!
Eighteen years ago today, Thanksgiving Weekend, we were in Stratford, Ontario with Nancy Nall and her husband Alan, taking in some plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I was up early that Saturday morning and left our B and B for a long explore on my own.
Morning walk alone before breakfast. Low fog. Trees across the river obscured through the fog. Fog drifting by the roof of the hockey rink. Crossed the river by the dam, walked along the river, crossed the grounds of the theater, through a park, over a footbridge over the railroad tracks to a grove of pines and birches with a waterfall over rocks.
Windows into the costume shop. Dress dummies. Office tucked up against the windows. Rolling rack of hanging patterns over cloth to be cut. Sign on door: “Remind me again why I’m lucky to have this job.” Toy stuffed alligator basking belly-up on top of the refrigerator. Homey-ness of workplace. Man drawing back curtains in the theater lobby.
The Stratford Gallery, old Victorian waterworks. Displays inside on costume design. Nathan Detroit’s brown pinstriped suit, Cassius’s armor, Elizabeth I’s dress on white blank-faced mannequins. Pool out back. Squirrels on fence. Seagulls in the park. Swatches of honey blond pine needles.
House with three steeply-pitched dormers and gingerbread eaves.
The plays we saw that year were Treasure Island, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing. Much Ado and Hamlet starred our favorite Stratford leading man, Colm Feore. The year before we’d seen him turn a production of Julius Caesar into the Tragedy of Cassius. The next year, 1992, he would play the puritanical Angelo in Measure for Measure, a character described as pissing ice, and Feore was certainly frigid in the part. He froze the blood. He also played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio is usually given to a leading man who has gotten too old to play Romeo. The trouble with that is that by that time he’s too old to play Mercutio, as well. No middle-aged man comes off looking good delivering the cavorting Queen Mab speech or sexually bantering with a Romeo twenty years younger than him about a fourteen year old girl. Three years later, in 1994, we would see him tear the roof the theater as Cyrano De Bergerac and as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. But as Hamlet and Benedict, Feore was ill-served by his directors. The production of Hamlet was all about Colm Feore playing Hamlet. Made it seem like a vanity production. And for some reason the costume and make-up design for Much Ado were modeled on my grandmother’s Hummel collection. Everybody, including Feore, looked like a doll-faced porcelain figurine. Plus it was “jolly.” Lots of grinning and ha ha ha laughter. A less than memorable year.
What was memorable is that we didn’t stay at our usual Bed and Breakfast, a lovely place run by an elderly Belgian woman who always went all out for us. She loved the blonde, especially. One year she let us stay in her place for free, when she was not there, she was travelling. And when the now sixteen year old was on the way back in 1992 she knitted him a sweater with a fire truck on the front. We have it carefully put away. But in ‘91 she was full up with her own visiting family and so we had to find somewhere else to bunk. We landed with a retired minister and his wife who were also celebrating Thanksgiving with their family of three grown children, their spouses, and their children, all of whom the minister and his wife quartered in the attic together to free up the bedrooms on the second floor for the paying guests. The minister had booked us without consulting his wife, apparently forgetting it was the holiday weekend. The wife and the rest of the family were not the least bit happy about this and they let us know it by glaring at us every time they saw us in their house. Hard to relax with a twenty pairs of eyes watching your every move with blazing hostility. Didn’t help their mood that that weekend the Toronto Blue Jays were busy losing the American League Championship to the Minnesota Twins. No wonder I escaped for that walk.
Dramatically related: Douglas Campbell, a Stratford Festival stalwart since its first season in 1953, died last week. Off the top of my head I can’t remember if he was in any of the many plays we saw between 1986 and 1995, the last time we were up there. We saw his son in a couple of productions. What I would love to have seen was Douglas Campbell in his prime as Falstaff opposite Christopher Plummer as Prince Hal. At any rate, for theater buffs, here are a couple of nice eulogies.