We left Niagara-on-the-Lake on Thursday morning, July 29, after breakfasting with the other guests at Mi Casa, Michael and Sandy from Toronto. Nearly all of the people we met at breakfast on this trip were from Toronto. In past years, most of those we met were from either the US or other countries and very few were Canadian. This is yet another indicator of the economic times.
We drove about two hours to reach Stratford, Ontario. Stratford, believe it or not, lies on the Avon River. Yes, William Shakespeare was in the minds of those who named the town and river. He’s also on the minds of nearly everyone who frequents the place these days, since the world renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival takes place there every year. It’s almost impossible to ignore the presence of the festival. Many shops and restaurants exhibit Shakespearean influence, whether by name or motif or product. The town sports four playhouses. This year, twelve different productions take place in these theaters. Although Shakespeare provides the inspiration for the festival, his plays usually make up only about a fourth of the total productions. Other genres and other eras are represented in the annual Stratford playlist. This year, the wide range of fare can be seen in such titles as “Evita,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Peter Pan,” “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” and “The Tempest.”
We checked into the “Almost Home” B & B late in the afternoon. We met the hostess, Sandra Buss, for the very first time when she answered the door. We usually stay inside the town of Stratford, but by the time I scheduled our trip I had trouble finding a B & B with en suite bathrooms. So I settled on one just outside the town. We were very pleased with our choice. Sandra is a gracious hostess and makes very good breakfasts. Her rooms (only two) are new, very clean, and extremely comfortable. Her home is in a suburban area that lies on the edge of farmland. The only distraction from the otherwise quiet surroundings was provided by an occasional train that passed nearby. This didn’t bother us, since we live close to a railroad and seldom are awakened or otherwise inconvenienced by the roar or the whistles.
I purchased tickets for two plays in Stratford well in advance, unlike my strategy for the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. In the case of one play, “The Tempest,” I’m very fortunate to have done that. Christopher Plummer plays the lead character, Prospero. Because of Plummer’s presence there was much interest in the play. The production was a complete sellout and no tickets were available on the day of the play. Our seats were in the balcony, three rows back and in the center. We couldn’t have asked for better seating. At the age of 84, Plummer is a very large and forceful presence on the stage, especially playing a character who is supposed to be larger than life and able to summon supernatural powers. We saw the play at 8 p.m. on the day of our arrival in Stratford.
There were several other roles of note in the play, including that of Ariel (Prospero’s ethereal servant played by Julyana Soelistyo), and Miranda, Prospero’s daughter (played by Trish Lindström). These actors supported Plummer admirably but are also strong actors on their own. All in all, the play itself was worth an 8 hour drive. The acting quality, the strong storyline, and the special effects all combined to make “The Tempest” a memorable event. Whenever I think of Christopher Plummer, I’ll remember him as Prospero in Stratford, Ontario.
After the play, we went to “Bentley’s,” a favorite of ours and a place with good food and an excellent beer and wine list. Sandra Buss, at “Almost Home,” told us that she didn’t care for Bentley’s and made it a point not to frequent the place. But we returned there anyway and were glad that we did. As usual, I ordered a pint of Creemore Springs lager. Barb had a glass of single malt scotch. We shared a plate of something that was very tasty. I wish I could remember what it was.
On Friday, we spent some time visiting shops in Stratford and tasting the local fare. We had lunch at a place called The County Food Co. They have great sandwiches, salads, and pizza. They also serve Balzac’s coffee. Good stuff.
We saw Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” Friday evening. Sandra Buss, at our B & B, told us that she was very disappointed in that play and that she and her daughter had walked out after the first intermission. Considering what she told us about Bentley’s Tavern, I couldn’t help but wonder whether her evaluation of “As You Like It” might be a bit different than mine. It was.
I admit that seeing Shakespearean actors wearing 1930s era costumes, some of which looked like German Nazi military uniforms, was a bit unsettling at first. But the costumes and the stage settings, after a while, lost significance as the play developed and the actors took control. By the end of the first (of two) intermissions, I was completely absorbed in the story. Rosalind’s efforts to hide her identity by posing as a man, and her ongoing attempt to remain hidden while having daily encounters with the man she loves, is not only humorous but also very touching. Rosalind is a strong, intelligent woman, and is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters.
We were very much pleased with “As You Like It,” and with our visit to Stratford as a whole. The next morning at breakfast, we told Sandra that she had probably walked out of the play too soon to have made proper judgment of its merits. She said she would have to revisit the play and give it another chance.
This year’s trip to Canada finally came to an end. We checked out of “Almost Home” on Saturday morning and drove west toward the St. Clair River and the US border. Although we had a great time during the previous six days, we were ready to return home. This readiness was tested, however, when we got to within a few miles of the Blue Water Bridge. We were tied up in a long line of traffic trying to cross the border. Nearly three hours after the traffic jam started, we finally showed our passports to the US Customs agent. After about 60 seconds of questions and answers, he waved us through the checkpoint. I’m not sure what caused such a logjam at the border, but we were certainly glad to put it behind us.
We spent Sunday trying to ready ourselves for the coming work week. One day of preparation was not enough.