After a first week at Stratford filled with gripping drama, satirical wit, poignant memoire and a couple of tuneful musicals, it was with high hopes that I readied myself for the next pair of openers would be chock-a-block full of laugh-out-loud comedy (cross references below).
While tomorrow’s The Taming of the Shrew literally remains to be seen (the 2008 production was a winner, cross-reference below), suffice it to say that Oliver Goldsmith’s tale of love by mis—and mister!—adventure laid the proverbial egg (most certainly the duck-as-prop in this case rather than, let’s say, a “gandering” goose).
Many believe that comedy is the most difficult—and to be fair, subjective—art form to get right. But with a text that has been tickling funny bones since 1773, how odd that Martha Henry’s production looked fantastic (Douglas Paraschuk’s revolving sets are miracles of detail, tone and colour; Charlotte Dean’s costuming—especially the hair—tantalizes the eye, while Louise Guinand’s creative lighting ensures nothing is left in the dark—this visual tour de force being worth the price of admission alone), but the yuks were decidedly too few and far between to lift this version up to the ranks of must-see at Stratford.
Somewhat similar to the pre-play “introductions” in The Diary of Anne Frank, the show began with an insider’s segment where the payoff ~2.5 hours later (a wee bit of upstaging as the Epilogue was launched) seemed equally contrived. Better, in retrospect, to just present the script as intended.
Of the principals, Lucy Peacock (hilariously draped and coiffed in the spirit of her surname) playing Dorothy Hardcastle delivered the best comedy of the night (an expert of timing, subtext and looks that spoke volumes) only to find few of her colleagues able to match or keep up with her considerable skill sets.
Hubby Richard Hardcastle (Joseph Ziegler) came across more confused than befuddled; his stepson Tony Lumpkin (Karack Osborn) was served up too broadly—the chair flops soon tiresome, while daughter Kate Hardcastle (Maev Beaty) never really found the radiance to convince as either intended-in-waiting or bar wench impersonator.
Sara Farb’s Constance Neville was too-loud-by-half, her screeches rupturing ear drums with no discernable effect on two occasions, nor eliciting belly laughs from the capacity crowd (just a few stalwarts cheered her on). Thank goodness for Tyrone Savage as George Hastings (“Con’s” paramour) who—unlike most of his boisterous co-actors—understands just how effective “less is more” can be (even drawing a chuckle lying speechless, flat on his back).
In the smaller roles, violin-wielding Ryan Field was ever engaging as Tom Twist and Oliver; Lally Cadeau’s Pimple was a welcome gem of knowing servitude.
MIA—and truly surprising given Henry’s track record of so successfully reading between the lines—was the utilization of deft understatement to make the audience work a little harder only to be rewarded with side-splitting “aha” moments when the playwright’s zingers hit their marks.
By journey’s end, not everyone in the house knew/realized that the curtain had fallen, producing a feeling in many that although she stooped, she did not conquer. JWR