Friday, September 12, 2008

Richard Monette, 1944-2008

Word reaches us that Richard Monette, the longest-serving Artistic Director in the Stratford Festival's history (he only gave up the artistic directorship last year), died this week, of a pulmonary embolism. It would be hard to over-estimate his importance to the Festival, and therefore to classical theatre in America. Monette turned Stratford around financially, and his own productions (beginning with a tremendously successful debut production of Taming of the Shrew, which I caught in 1988) were always lively and intelligent (and it's worth noting that over the course of his career he actually directed the entire Shakespearean canon). The muttered criticisms of Monette - that he was almost too ready to cave to financial pressures, and that his directing tended to go for the easy laugh - were, yes, true, but it was hard to shake a growing affection for him for all that. A successful actor before he was a director (at left, he's with Martha Henry in a 1977 production of All's Well), Monette was responsible for attracting, and holding onto, a new generation of Canadian talent at the Festival, which during his tenured offered landmark productions of Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night, South Pacific, Into the Woods, Orpheus Descending, King John, Pericles, King Lear, Present Laughter, Private Lives, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Medea, and many others. All that - plus he was in the original cast of Oh! Calcutta! (how many Artistic Directors can claim that?). We can take comfort in the fact that Mr. Monette lived a full life, even if it ended far too soon.

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