|Seana McKenna and Ben Carlson in Mary Stuart.|
Hub Review readers are familiar with my annual trek to Canada's Stratford Festival, now inarguably the greatest classical theatre in the hemisphere. Well, I only arrived yesterday, but already I've caught what probably counts as the season's blockbuster: Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart, which in artistic director Antoni Cimolino's opulent, star-studded production resonates with surprising force in our own era, with its War on Terror and powerful female heads of state. In a very smart move that probably is only available to the Festival's artistic director, Cimolino has deployed the company's top line of talent for his take on Schiller's meditation on realpolitik: Stratford's reigning duo of leading ladies, Seana McKenna and Lucy Peacock, duke it out in high style as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, but they're surrounded by a dazzling supporting cast of the Festival's leading men - including Geraint Wyn-Davies, Ben Carlson, Brian Dennehy, James Blendick, and Ian Lake.
There really isn't a weak link in the acting, or a single misstep in Cimolino's astutely balanced direction. (Alas, it's virtually sold out already - but there may be some tickets available for added performances in October.) To be honest, even this cast sometimes loses traction to the discursiveness of Schiller's text (which in its first half leans more toward discussion than drama). But once his two divas-by-divine-right lock horns (in a fictional meeting), the emotional stakes shoot up precipitously, and the company drives the conflict home with astounding skill. An undeniable triumph. I hope to consider it more fully upon my return - but now I have to run to catch Blithe Spirit, Othello, The Three Musketeers, Waiting for Godot, and The Merchant of Venice. (Yes, I am a happy camper this weekend.)