Last Friday, Melissa and I played hooky a bit (day off for me, half-day off for her) and headed west to Stratford. My last jaunt there was two years ago to see The Merchant of Venice, which, alas, underwhelmed.

This time, however, our theatrical experience couldn’t help but be splendid. After all, we were going to see Colm Feore. 🙂 He’s doing the title roles of both Macbeth and Cyrano de Bergerac this year — we went to Cyrano.

We arrived in town mid-afternoon, and promptly found ourselves a primo parking spot on Ontario Street (the main drag). We wandered the shops a bit, purchased a few little things, both edible and not, and soaked up the sun. I managed not to bankrupt myself at Gallery Indigena, got to visit my beloved Balzac’s for a latte and fabulous coffee beans, and Melissa and I decided to get married in a pretty little church alcove by taking wedding photos. Voila!

wedding photo

We had more time than we really needed, but we managed, and Melissa’s knee didn’t entirely give out. (Though I could prolly have piggybacked her if I had to.) For dinner we headed to The Old Prune, which came well-recommended on Chowhound, and, as luck would have it, was also participating in Summerlicious (which the server kept calling “Delicious”). We were about ten minutes early, so we sat in the garden and watched the koi and such until called in.

For some reason, they seated everyone (that being four tables in the time we were there) in the back room off the garden, which certainly had a nice view, but felt pretty tucked away (especially since there was no one else there), and was overly air conditioned.

The menu was a bit confusing, as it had two prix fixe options — two-course (appetizer and main or main and dessert) and three-course (appetizer, main, and dessert), and a vegetarian prix fixe option (three courses). There was no mention of what the Summerlicious was, but the server pointed it out within the options of the other menus. Okie doke. We weren’t offered any other menu. Perhaps they weren’t quite rolling out the red carpet, as it is still early in the season?

We weren’t impressed with the dessert options, so both opted for the two-course menu (Melissa taking the vegetarian option). We were brought very chewy (though pretty tasty) rolls to start, which, strangely, they kept bringing throughout the meal. Between the chewiness of the rolls and the cold butter, we certainly had to work to start our meal. 🙂 I had the salad Lyonaisse, which was certainly interesting, with it’s deep-fried soft-boiled egg (more or less), but pretty tiny overall.

My main course was a beef striploin, which was more well done than the medium I ordered, and had a considerable quantity of fat on it, making the fairly small edible portion even smaller. The beef was on a bed of the same risotto Melissa’s meal consisted of, which, while tasty and very creamy, I can’t imagine as the bulk of your meal. We both had a glass of a Languedoc red, the name of which escapes me, and which I don’t see on their online wine list.

We realized, with some consternation, after our plates were cleared, that our dining experience had lasted not quite and hour, and our show wasn’t until 8pm. (5pm was the recommended reservation time.) We briefly discussed whether there was anything on the dessert menu that appealed (not really — no chocolate? no ice cream?) and whether we wanted to get a coffee. We decided to wander elsewhere for potential dessert and caffeine, so off we toddled back to downtown.

All in all not a dining experience I would repeat. Particularly since I found myself hungry again a couple hours later. One hopes, based on the reviews that convinced us to make the reservation in the first place, that their dining experience improves in the fullness of summer. Otherwise, those reviewers are on crack.

We ended up getting another coffee at Balzac’s and chillin’ on their back patio, which is a very pleasant, shady spot. We chatted about entertaining things like the social balance of determining who to befriend on Facebook — or not — and the weirdness of relatives encroaching on one’s social media strongholds. At 7pm-ish, we headed back to the car, our parking time having run out, and headed over to the Festival Theatre.

Melissa had thoughtfully pre-ordered a parking pass, though it wasn’t really busy enough yet for that to be an issue. (Plus we arrived fairly early.) We wandered up to the theatre, checked out the theatre store, and vegged outside the theatre until seating started. (As noted, the day was characterized by having more time than we needed.)

The seating arrangements in the Festival Theatre are very confusing, as rows have the same numbering/lettering on either side of the aisles, with an additional L or R to denote which side. But as we quickly learned, that didn’t help much, as apparently there were about four places we could have sat that more or less made sense.

Getting an usher’s attention was bloody near impossible as well, because of the steady stream of octogenarians and such entering the theatre, most of whom needed assistance navigating the stairs, etc. Finally we determined where we were supposed to sit, which was the second last row of the orchestra, right off the centre aisle. This would turn out to be an excellent place to be.

Reading over the acting company profiles, it really drives home that when you do Stratford for a season (as an actor), you REALLY do Stratford. Starring actors tend to play at least two major roles, and actors in lesser roles tend to amass more like five. That said, I’m sure the variety helps keep people from getting bored or rote in their performances. There appeared to be a lot of people doing their first season at Stratford, which I’m sure is very exciting when you get that call. As usual, I didn’t see anyone I went to theatre school with, though it’s good to know what Geraint Wyn Davies is up to these days.

Cyrano began with one of those odd little vignettes of which Stratfordians are so fond, which kinda sorta sometimes relate to the play at hand. In this case, it appeared to mostly be intended to give the Feores’ son Tom a little something to do. 🙂 (Colm was starring, of course, and his wife Donna directed.) While not nearly as weird as the opening vignette from when we saw The Merchant of Venice, it still didn’t really get me on board as to why they bother (though they do seem to be traditional).

Then the play proper began, and the costumes were lush and lovely. (Though written in 1897, the play is set in the late 17th century, and was done in period.) I was also impressed with the use of both French and English. The play is originally French, and most of it was staged in English, but in a number of places the characters would switch seamlessly back and forth. It was, in its way, very Canadian. And even though I didn’t understand every word of the French, it didn’t matter, as it was done in such a way that you knew exactly what they meant.

Per a number of reviews I’ve seen, I agree that Roxane and Christian were… enh. I understand that the entire point of Christian is that he’s a good-looking dolt, but there needs to be a bit more. A hint of frat-boyish charisma — something. Particularly near the end when he realizes Roxane has really loved Cyrano the whole time, he didn’t quite nail the complexity of the character’s realization. That she doesn’t love him, that he was a “victim” of his appearance, that he’ll never be a man like Cyrano, and his insistence that Cyrano reveal his feelings, etc.

Roxane… well, I’ve always had issues with her. They note early in the play that, in addition to being very beautiful, she’s also well-rounded, even “bookish”. But you never really see this, unless they try to cram that whole angle of her personality into her love of Cyrano’s words. She always just strikes me as being a match for Christian, which doesn’t say much beyond being a pretty face in pretty gowns. I’ve never gotten why Cyrano loves her so much, but since he’s loved her since childhood, there must be something extraordinary there. So let’s see it!

I do understand that even smart women can be swayed by a particularly comely male form, but of course that lasts as long as it takes for said male to open his mouth, often. I guess that’s what they were getting at later in the play where she tells Christian she wishes he was ugly so she could love him even more, but again, it didn’t quite work for me.

The only other character of mental note was the Comte de Guiche. A matter of taste, I think, but I would have played him a bit more sinister and with a bit less moustache-twirling buffoonery. He wasn’t over the top, but given what he wants and various actions he takes, one could really dive into the the arrogance and manipulative power-mongering of the character.

Anyway, who cares about other characters — this play is about Colm! Er… Cyrano! 🙂 He makes his entrance from the back of the theatre, a neat little trick in that no one sees him enter, and when he begins speaking it’s as much of a surprise to the audience as to those on stage. Plus, he entered right behind us, and paused for a few moments right beside us before continuing up to the stage. Squee!

It’s unbelievable how many lines Cyrano has in the play. The man is almost always talking. Combine that with doing Macbeth as well this season, and methinks Mr. Feore’s head is pretty full with big characters. But again, the dual usage of English and French really worked, and Colm was fantastically entertaining — his own charisma breathing great life into both Cyrano’s bombast and abject loneliness.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable experience (this post is quite long enough, so I won’t dissect the whole performance — go see it!) and I definitely got a little misty towards the end. Colm got a standing O, which was well-deserved (his work really is best enjoyed on stage), and then we all herded out into the late night. The play is a good three hours — two hours to the intermission, then another hour after that. Enjoyable, certainly, but a bit long, and it made for a late night. However, definitely glad we chose it.

And, as luck would have it, thanks to Andrew’s sister, we got tickets to see Macbeth this Friday evening at a near criminal discount, and so will be enjoying it with Andrew’s sister and brother-in-law (and dining at Bijou — fingers crossed). They also got excellent seats for Cyrano for Thursday evening, so I am most interested to hear what they think.

Stay tuned for review #2 coming next weekend. More Colm for all! 🙂

2 Comments on Coffee and Colm: Melissa and Melle do Stratford!

  1. Only now, when I have to pay closer to full fare, do I realize how special it was to see Colm in Coriolanus for $25 back in 2006. At Orchestra level. For reals. How I miss my 20s…

  2. Only now, when I have to pay closer to full fare, do I realize how special it was to see Colm in Coriolanus for $25 back in 2006. At Orchestra level. For reals. How I miss my 20s…

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