If you like theater, especially Shakespeare, Stratford, Ontario is a great place to be.
I spent a long weekend there with my husband Jeff and friends, Jelena and Jim.
We drove up the four hours from Michigan last Friday, settled into our B & B, had a light dinner at an outdoor café, then walked over to the Festival Theater along the Avon River.
That first evening we were seeing The Merry Wives of Windsor.
The production of this boisterous comedy was innovative yet traditional, the casting perfect, and I laughed so much at the shenanigans of Falstaff and his friends, honestly, I cannot remember when I laughed more.
The play was long, and as we walked back to our B & B along the river in the thick, humid darkness, we encountered flocks of ducks and swans, parents guarding their sleeping babies.
We met for breakfast with other guests on the shady deck of the old house the next morning. Our proprietress, Luka, had set out an appetizing spread: freshly baked muffins, quiche, fruit, yogurt, coffee, juice. We sat there for a long time, talking, relaxing, enjoying the morning. I was knitting.
The previous afternoon, while walking around town, I had bought some yarn, learned a new pattern and started a scarf for Jelena. Now, everyone was intrigued by the dazzling jewel color and flamboyant design of my creation. Almost as extravagant as a piece of Renaissance apparel, it seemed perfect for this theatrical town.
The next play we saw was a matinee performance of Richard III at the Patterson Theater. This is a long, dark play about a man (played exquisitely by an amazing actress in this production) set on becoming king. Richard is a deformed dwarf, physically ugly yet charming and cunning, and he will destroy anyone whom he perceives obstructing his path to power.
Patterson is a small, intimate theater with the audience perched, almost levitating, above the protruding stage. For three hours we were confidants to Richard’s evil schemes, witnesses to his Machiavellian intrigues.
It was spellbinding to be transported into this enchanting, but tragic, domain by a company of masterful actors.
When we walked out of the theater, I was shocked by the blueness of the summer sky. I had forgotten in the three intense hours, that there was such brightness in this world.
We had dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant that evening and the seafood stew I ordered was flavorful and delicious. But the perfect antidote to the malevolence of Richard III, was the dessert Jelena told us that we must order, an immense piece of delicately citric meringue, covered with dollops of fresh cream.
Whenever I took a bite of this ambrosial concoction, I closed my eyes. I didn’t want the sensation to end.
We spent the rest of the evening (and late into the night) sitting on the deck of our B & B, having a drink of brandy, listening to the night sounds, talking.
Throughout it all, I kept knitting the scarf.
Breakfast was served on the shady deck again the next morning. Our proprietress sat with us for a long time, telling us about her family, her children.
Jelena said she would love to have a picnic lunch, so we stopped at a delicatessen, bought some freshly baked French bread, cheese, sliced turkey, salami and roast beef, olives, pickles and peppers. We spread everything out on a picnic table by the river, ate sandwiches and listened to a Celtic music band playing on a barge nearby.
By the time we were ready to go to our last play, The Homecoming by Harold Pinter, I had finished the scarf. I gave it to my friend as a memento of this glorious weekend.
None of us had seen this play before, so we didn’t know what to expect. But the play was so disturbing, challenging, arduous and demanding, we were in a daze when we walked out of the theater. Pinter had asked us to go to the corners of the human subconscious where few of us tread voluntarily.
As we drove home that afternoon, we discussed every detail of the play adding to each other’s insight and understanding. Sometimes we drove in silence for long periods of time. Then someone would have a thought, a moment of clarity, and the conversation resumed. And so we went in circles for four hours.
Not even a very long line at the boarder crossing could cast a shadow on our adventure.