On a perfect Saturday, after a rocky start at the car rental place (we ended up with a Lexus, sigh), three of us hit the road to spend the day in Stratford, Ontario, home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Trenna packing up

The sky was insanely blue, the traffic wasn’t too terrible, the gossip was juicy, and the leaves were starting to change to brilliant yellows and oranges.  Sometimes Ontario is just lovely.

Janelle driving us to Stratford in style

After a decent lunch at a place called Backstage (Othello’s next door was closed) and a vanilla-less London Fog at a sweet café staffed by sweet people (but with no vanilla in their London Fogs), we hit the bustling streets full and revitalized.

The culinary festival was in full swing.  There was Chuck in a truck selling some sort of kitchen thing to the crowd, little kids on each street corner busking with their violins, and break-dancers busting a move in front of the BBQ rib extravaganza.

Something in the water

And then the theatre…  Though the Stratford Festival of Canada recently rebranded to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, we opted for two non-Shakespeare plays.  The matinée we saw, The Little Years, was presented at the Studio Theatre, the smallest and newest (and my most favourite) space at the festival.

It was the perfect venue for The Little Years, a seemingly little play that manages to be about time, education, family, devotion, obsession, math, regret… and it was absolutely heartbreaking.  I think the only person who can tackle these themes with equal parts humanity, raw emotion, wit, and intelligence is the one and only John Mighton.  The production was elegantly pared-down with the lighting and sound design painting the stage and air sometimes intrusively, but mostly evocatively.  Irene Poole as Kate blew me away.

And, completely randomly, three quarters of the Virginia Aldridge, BSc team ended up sitting next to each other in a row.

Irene Poole as Kate in The Little Years. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Then we had soup

Mennonite summer sausage soup and bread

and admired the random food items strewn across downtown in celebration of… food, I guess.

Hello lamppost, whatcha growin?

Fountain lions wearing knit foodie hats. No big deal.

We braved our way through the busy theatre store where I resisted buying any t-shirts I would have loved to wear to school in grade 8, and found our seats in the enormous and quite lavish Avon Theatre.

Despite an unusually annoying audience (lots of SHHHH! and “It’s starting!” and loud mouth-breathing and program shuffling and full-out talking “what’d he say?” and incessant waves of coughing), The Homecoming was the extraordinary theatrical experience I’ve been craving.

I’m a sucker for 20th century British playwrights to begin with, but this absurdist family drama is the kind of thing that puts your nerves, morals, and expectations through the blender.

Written in six weeks by the genius that was Harold Pinter, I don’t even know where to begin describing its plot and all the questions it raises.  Can I just say it’s dark and hilarious and you should read it, if you can’t see it?  But if you’re in the Stratford neighbourhood before Oct 30th, you should check out this grounded, engaging production directed by Jennifer Tarver and starring a truly cohesive and riveting group of actors.

From left: Ian Lake as Joey, Cara Ricketts as Ruth, Brian Dennehy as Sam and Aaron Krohn as Lenny in The Homecoming. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

All in all, a very successful day that I’m still slightly surprised actually fell into place and happened.
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