A road trip where plays are the thing

It started as a long-held wish to visit Canada's two famed repertory theaters in Ontario: the Stratford Festival in Stratford and the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It ended up being a mini-tour of four North American theaters that included 10 plays over 15 days. I enjoyed plays by living legends (Horton Foote's new "The Carpetbagger's Children" and Edward Albee's 40-year-old "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?").

Shakespeare ("A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Twelfth Night"), and Bernard Shaw ("The Millionairess," "Fanny's First Play") got their due. I found myself riveted by Luigi Pirandello's rarely seen "Six Characters in Search of an Author," from 1921.

I sat in Stratford's Festival Hall, whose thrust stage, with the audience on three sides, designed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie nearly 50 years ago, has influenced theater design around the world. Theater-in-the-round at the Guthrie Lab in Minneapolis reminded me how intimate playgoing can be.

An outdoor "Midsummer Night's Dream" by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., proved magical. The action spilled far beyond a small stage into the adjacent woods, where mortal fools pined and roamed - and fairies hid in trees and flew on ropes.

We, the audience, sat in lawn chairs on a grassy hillside, watching as Bottom and his fellow "rude mechanicals," played hilariously as modern-day construction workers, stole the show.

Some friends gave curious looks when they heard how I had spent two weeks. Was it too much of a good thing? Not for me. What better way to visit new (if fictional) places, meet fascinating characters, and think new thoughts about myself and the world.

Write to entertainment@csps.com

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