Stratford, ON… Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino is pleased to announce the playbill for the 2019 season. Featuring 12 productions, it’s built around a theme of Breaking Boundaries, which will also be explored through more than 150 thought-provoking and entertaining events at the Forum.
“In planning next year’s season, I began to think about breaking through boundaries – in terms of faith, identity or culture,” says Cimolino. “Boundaries help define who we are; they can either protect or confine us. Whether they’re imposed on us by others or we draw them ourselves, they represent the limits of what we think is acceptable, advisable or even possible. We need to know where they’re set in order to navigate our way in the world, but we also need to be able to break through them in order to realize our full potential. Sometimes we find worlds outside our boundaries – whether those boundaries be personal, political or familial – in which we feel even more at home.”
Opening the 2019 season at the Festival Theatre is Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams. “I am delighted to have Nigel back to direct Othello next season after his beautiful interpretation of To Kill a Mockingbird this year,” says Cimolino. “This is the story of an audacious young woman and a remarkable man who are put into an almost impossible position because of their identities. As they try to open up and encompass a bigger world and a bigger sense of self, tears in the fibres of who they are appear and are exploited, ending in tragedy.”
Cimolino himself will direct the second Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, also on the Festival stage. “Shakespeare sets this rollicking comedy in a town we might all recognize – a place where small-town values and cosmopolitan influences converge, just as they do here in Stratford, Ontario,” says Cimolino. “I am especially interested in the women at the heart of the story. They have a strength and confidence that allows them to take matters into their own hands when someone tries to take advantage of them.”
The mainstage musical is a perfect encapsulation of the season’s theme. Billy Elliot the Musical – winner of 10 Tony Awards and four Oliviers – is about the barriers families can build and, ultimately, the support they can offer, as one boy struggles with a talent his father and brother see as unacceptable because it challenges their view of masculinity. Donna Feore will direct and choreograph this blockbuster musical with book and lyrics Lee Hall and Elton John.
Feore will also be directing and choreographing the second musical, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors, at the Avon Theatre. Like The Rocky Horror Show, now playing to sold-out houses filled with enthusiastic super-fans and “virgins,” this cult hit is a send-up of science fiction and B movies. But at its core Little Shop is a touching story about longing for family and love. Audrey, whose desire for a family sees her stuck in an abusive relationship, longs for love and, like Seymour, dreams of a life beyond skid row, “somewhere that’s green.”
“Donna is the master of musical theatre,” says Cimolino. “We are so fortunate to have her return next season and take on the gargantuan task of helming two major productions at the same time. Her work this year on The Music Man and The Rocky Horror Show has been inspirational and I have no doubt that her productions next season will have us all seeing both of these musicals in a brand new light.”
The Man Who Came to Dinner, a hilarious and warm-hearted comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, will round out the Festival Theatre offerings, in a production directed by Graham Abbey.
Sometimes disrupting the mundane activities of a family can be wildly funny. And that’s exactly what the outsized personality of famous radio raconteur Sheridan Whiteside brings to the Stanley family home when he slips on the ice at the front entry. Worlds collide when members of high society, icons from the entertainment industry and even penguins descend upon the home.
“While Graham has beautifully directed a number of Shakespeare romances and tragedies, I have seen in working with him over the years that he also has a deft touch with comedy. He is the ideal person for this project. Just like Kaufman and Hart, he will pull out all the stops to create an absolutely joyful experience in the theatre.”
Jillian Keiley will return to direct the Schulich Youth Play The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, adapted for the stage by David S. Craig, who will be revising the script for this production. The 1984 film about a boy escaping his difficult reality and becoming a hero in a fantasy land became an instant classic.
“Jillian brought such joy and imagination to Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” says Cimolino. “I cannot wait to see her work on this beautiful family play about the eternal issues of childhood – loss, bullying, low self-esteem – and ultimately triumph through creativity. I’m sure it will inspire allow a whole new generation to fall in love with this wonderful story.” Like Alice, this will be mounted at the Avon Theatre and produced in association with Canada’s National Arts Centre, where Keiley is Artistic Director of English Theatre.
Also at the Avon, Jonathan Goad will direct Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. “This title has particular resonance at the moment,” says Cimolino. “Not only is it about women not being believed, but at its core is a man in a position of power who has an affair with a younger woman in his employ and refuses to admit it. This is a play we need to look at through the lens of today, and one Jonathan is eager to take on as his directorial debut at the Festival. He did such fine work with Annie Baker’s John in Toronto and we are thrilled to have him undertake this production.”
In a lighter vein is the Noël Coward comedy Private Lives, directed by Carey Perloff. “This is a play in which Coward uses comedy to examine how we live with our own identity relative to other people,” says Cimolino. “It’s about two people who make each other’s lives miserable – but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Carey, who recently completed a 25-year tenure as artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, is going to have a ball with this production and I’m so happy to have her back at Stratford.”
The Studio Theatre will feature four plays that can be explored as two complementary pairs. First: Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, directed by Martha Henry, and the world première of Kate Hennig’s Mother’s Daughter, directed by Alan Dilworth. “Both these plays look keenly at personal faith and the political manoeuvering surrounding the explosive moment when a revolution in religion changed the course of modern history,” says Cimolino.
“Martha will bring fresh insight to Henry VIII, one of the few Shakespeares she has not been in here,” he adds. “It was once seen as a play about pageantry but it seems to me that it has more to do with personal faith and the dynamics of a very complicated marriage – that of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.”
Their royal daughter, Mary I, known to history as Bloody Mary, is the focus of Mother’s Daughter, the dramatic conclusion of Hennig’s Queenmaker Trilogy commissioned by the Festival. In it Mary grapples with her sister Elizabeth, her cousin Jane Grey and their shared regal inheritance. Featuring the creative team that brought both The Last Wife and The Virgin Trial to the Stratford stage, Mother’s Daughter continues Hennig’s fascinating exploration of women and power and the nature of leadership seen through a compelling contemporary lens.
“Kate’s original vision, as outlined in The Last Wife, was to follow the formative relationships of the teenaged Elizabeth I in the years leading up to her coronation,” says Cimolino. “These plays have been an enormous success here in Stratford and beyond, with productions across Canada and in the U.S. I know audiences are keenly awaiting this final instalment, in which Kate will bring the sisters to a final conflict over the throne. The production is in good hands with Alan Dilworth, who brought a keen eye and great sensitivity to the first two plays in the trilogy.”
The second pairing is Wajdi Mouawad’s Birds of a Kind, directed by Cimolino, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, directed by Birgit Schreyer Duarte.
About a decade ago, Cimolino brought the book Trickster Travels, by Holberg Prize-winning author and historian Natalie Zemon Davis, to the attention of Mouawad as a possible project for the Festival. The resultant work, Birds of A Kind, premièred in Paris last fall (as Tous les Oiseaux), where it received great praise, winning the prestigious Grand Prix de la Critique. Set in present-day New York and Jerusalem, the play follows a German/Israeli family riven by conflict when the geneticist son wants to marry an Arab-American woman who is doing her doctoral dissertation on Hassan al-Wazzan/Leo Africanus, the subject of Trickster Travels. This will be the world première of the English translation by Linda Gaboriau.
“I am thrilled to be directing Birds of a Kind, having taken Trickster Travels to Wajdi so many years ago when we were all grappling with the fallout from 9/11,” says Cimolino. “Wajdi transformed it into a modern-day story about the Arab-Israeli conflict. At its core is the idea that identity is always much more fluid than we believe. It pairs beautifully with another tale about the fluidity of identity, the Enlightenment comedy Nathan the Wise, which I’m very pleased to have Birgit working on. She has a special affinity for the German Enlightenment, as I learned when we worked on Mary Stuart together, and has been doing excellent work in Toronto, including Taking Care of Baby and Hamlet in the Park. Both Birds of a Kind and Nathan the Wise are challenging works that are so important in today’s world.”
The 2019 season will be presented in three venues only, the Festival, Avon and Studio theatres, as the Festival continues construction of the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, scheduled to open in 2020.
Casting for the 2019 season is in the early stages and will be announced sometime in the fall.
Meantime, the 2018 season is in full swing with the final three productions opening this week – Julius Caesar, Napoli Milionaria! and Paradise Lost. Another nine productions are also on stage: The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, The Music Man, The Rocky Horror Show, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, An Ideal Husband, To Kill a Mockingbird and Brontë: The World Without. The season runs until November 11. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca or call the box office at 1.800.567.1600.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
Billy Elliot the Musical
Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Music by Elton John
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore
The Merry Wives of Windsor
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
The Man Who Came to Dinner
By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Graham Abbey
By Noël Coward
Directed by Carey Perloff
Little Shop of Horrors
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Based on the film by Roger Corman, Screenplay by Charles Griffith
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore
The Neverending Story
By Michael Ende
Adapted for the stage by David S. Craig
Directed by Jillian Keiley
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Jonathan Goad
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Martha Henry
By Kate Hennig
Directed by Alan Dilworth
Nathan the Wise
By Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
In a version by Edward Kemp
Directed by Birgit Schreyer Duarte
Birds of a Kind
By Wajdi Mouawad
English translation by Linda Gaboriau
Directed by Antoni Cimolino