Kathy B.'s Stratford '98 Preview

"Views From A Broad"

First, a disclaimer. Both of these shows were seen in previews which are by nature a little rough around the edges. Previews are a valuable opportunity for the director, cast and crew to see how the show will work before it "officially" opens and to work out the kinks, so if the show you see turns out be different from what I saw, I bear no responsibility for it.

Is it fair to "review" a work before it's truly finished? Probably not but, suffice to say, I'm attempting to prepare you for what you might see if you go, or what you might miss if you don't.

First, the important stuff. Mr. Johnson has let his hair grow out a bit since last year, ladies. The sides are longer and he's also sporting a neatly-trimmed mustache and beard (just around the mouth and on his chin). The only photos available are those in the play programs. Before anyone shells out $10 CDN for a souvenir program, be advised: the only photo of Mr. Johnson in there--though worthy--is his new headshot. Everything else is from rough sketches by the costume designers.

The Cherry Orchard

This play has been controversial since it was first produced in 1904. Scholars still argue whether it is a light comedy or a domestic tragedy. After seeing this production, I'm betting on comedy 60-40. The script is an original translation prepared especially for Stratford by Canadian playwright John Murrell. (Mr. Johnson appeared in Mr. Murrell's play, "Farther West," in 1986.)

Simply put, Mr. Johnson is a hoot as Yasha. It's not a large part, but he is onstage a good deal of the time, and every line he has is played with his usual formidable attention to detail. No line, no movement, is wasted or thrown away.

If I had to find only one word, I'd say he plays Yasha "roguishly." Along that line, he has two playful, impulsive, forceful kissing scenes (oh, that lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky woman!!--oh c'mon, you were thinking that, too). He does a few fluid turns on the dance floor during an evening party scene--and he's wearing those classic black tails we've come to know and love watching D:tS. (Despite that, I don't think he'll remind you of Lucard at all in this show, so you can park those memories at the door when you come in.) And, throughout, he smokes cigars and giggles most charmingly, too.

Kate Trotter (yes, "Margo" from "I Love Lucard") is also quite interesting as Charlotta. She is clearly having fun in this role, painting her character in some broad, bold, colorful strokes. (And, no, this time she's not the one he kisses.)

You may recognize another of Mr. Johnson's costars in this show: Keepers, the adorable mutt from last year's calendar that featured Mr. Johnson.

The Winter's Tale

If Yasha is a hoot, Autolycus (aw TAH li kus) is a hoot and a howl. I scarcely know where to begin. I'm at cross purposes here: on the one hand, the overall show is flawed, but on the other hand, Mr. Johnson is absolutely delightful in it.

The flaws: the time periods are a little unclear in this production. The early scenes could be the 1930s or the 1950s. When Mr. Johnson appears, dressed as a bum and carrying a rock-blasting boombox, we seem to be in the present. When we see him again in big hair and a flashy purple velvet jacket, we're in the 60s. The set will give you no clue, either. It's a stark white, bare stage with 2 white rectangular boxes on either side and few bits of furniture to suggest places. Light rebounds off this thing like an assist from Dennis Rodman. (Sorry, but I'm in Chicago and it's the playoffs, you know?)

This show doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, either. It starts off as a domestic soap opera (in the 30s? 50s?). Then begins the tour of American musical theatre. When we get to the sheep-shearing party in the middle of the play, it looks suspiciously like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" but--hold on to your seat-- the lights come up and suddenly we're at a rousing performance of "Riverdance." (What's that about, eh?) When Mr. Johnson gets to one of his song numbers, he's wearing VERY big hair that threatens to devour him before your eyes like the Venus Flytrap in "Little Shop of Horrors." And, in case you hadn't heard, he sings in "The Winter's Tale." As he sings, everyone cavorts around him in a style that suggests we've now left "Little Shop" and we're pulling in to "Hair." Or "Godspell." Kinda scary. (Personally, I always hated musical theatre. And this show won't endear me to it.)

But those are production flaws and far beyond the realm of Mr. Johnson's role. Bless his heart, he really puts his all into it. This man can play comedy. He deftly wrings every available comic bit out of his moments on stage, every one a gem.

This is also Mr. Johnson's singing debut. Truthfully, his is not a strong singing voice. By comparison, it lacks the impressive power of his stage speaking voice. But that speaking voice was cultivated over a period of years. To his credit, however, his fledgling singing voice is sufficient to fill the theatre space without electronic enhancement. He carries a tune quite well, and he puts forth a complete effort into performing each song. And, best of all, even though you can imagine he's worked very hard, he makes it all look easy. Trademark Geordie Johnson.

(Please keep in mind these were previews. Costumes and staging may change in the final productions.)

-Kathy B. (kathyb@kwom.com)

Stratford '98 / Lucard's Home Page / lpetix@dpcc.com