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Aaron Krohn as Lenny in "The Homecoming" (Stratford Shakespeare Festival //Cylla von Tiedemann/Stratford Shakespeare Festival)
Aaron Krohn as Lenny in "The Homecoming" (Stratford Shakespeare Festival //Cylla von Tiedemann/Stratford Shakespeare Festival)

Aaron Krohn: Damn Yankee, or damn good Yankee? Add to ...

Well, Des McAnuff has poked his finger in the eyes of Canadian nationalists once again.

Today, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced more casting for the 2012 season and, at the top of the press release, is the news that Aaron Krohn will play the title role in McAnuff’s production of Henry V.

Krohn, currently giving an exceptional performance as Lenny in The Homecoming at the festival, previously worked with McAnuff on Aaron Sorkin’s 2007 play, The Farnsworth Invention.

His New York credits include the Lincoln Centre production of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia trilogy and director Jack O’Brien’s 2003 telescoping of the Henry IV plays. He was also in the ensemble of the 2005 Broadway production of Julius Caesar that starred Colm Feore and some guy named Denzel Washington.

Krohn certainly seems qualified for the part, so what’s the problem?

Well, the thing is that he’s – come close, so I can whisper it – American. That’s right. Born in Texas, no less.

“What!?!” you may be yelling at your screen (especially if you’re a particular Canadian I’m thinking of). “The role Canadian legend Christopher Plummer made his Stratford debut in back in 1956 is now going to be played by an American in the year 2012? Is Stratford going backward in time? Why’s McAnuff importing this little-known American actor to star in the flagship Shakespeare production of the 60th anniversary season when there are dozens of Canadian actors who’d be great in the role?”

This is hardly the first time McAnuff – who is either classified as a American-Canadian or Canadian-American depending on who’s talking about him – has courted controversy by casting Americans in his Shakespeare productions in prominent parts that actors across this country would kill for.

There was the case of Nikki M James, who McAnuff brought up to play Juliet in 2008 despite her resume mainly consisting of musicals. Then, when Andrea Runge injured her back, he imported LA/New York actor Suzy Jane Hunt – who lists no Shakespeare in her bio – to stand in as Viola in his Twelfth Night this season.

Those are two prominent examples that raised eyebrows, but there are audience members and critics out there who know exactly how many members of the Stratford ensemble were born in the States and, every time one of the Yanks gives a less than stellar performance, they seethe with rage.

Now, don’t get me wrong – some of McAnuff’s casting decisions have been pretty hard to fathom. (Who really fully understands his unwavering dedication to John Vickery?)

But this one, coming on the heels of Krohn’s scene-stealing in The Homecoming, seems completely reasonable. Exciting, even.

Should Stratford really be discriminating against Americans because they’re American?

Of course, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is a Canadian theatre and should largely employ Canadians.

Buy Stratford is not in any way over-run with American actors. I mean, just look at rest of the lead casting announced yesterday: Geraint Wyn Davies as Cymbeline and Cara Ricketts as Imogen; Yanna McIntosh as Elektra; Sean Arbuckle as the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (yes, that’s a subject for another time) is chock full of Canucks: Stephen Patterson as Snoopy; Erica Peck as Lucy; Ken James Stewart as Charlie Brown; Amy Wallis as Sally; and Kevin Yee as Linus.

Sure, Henry V is the big Shakespeare show directed by the artistic director. But complaining about a single American cast member because he’s playing the title role here is, ultimately, pretty xenophobic.

You can’t have it both ways, anyway – cheering on Canadians when they get big roles at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre or applauding Stratford’s transfer of Jesus Christ Superstar to Broadway, but then booing when an actor crosses the border the other way.

A large chunk of Stratford’s audience – and many of their donors – come from the United States, too, let’s not forget. Canada’s unofficial national theatre would certainly not be the same were it not for our friendly neighbours to the South (who misspell the word neighbour).

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Krohn’s Henry V and don’t care a whit what passport he carries.

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