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Theatre

Stratford Festival taps talent old and new

With a variety of faces and plays, this season explores themes of Canadian identity in the lead-up to the country's 150th anniversary

Promo photo of Tom Rooney in

Promo photo of Tom Rooney in “Tartuffe” playing at Stratford Festival.

Handout/Stratford Festival

In 2017, the Stratford Festival will see Tom Rooney tackling Tartuffe in his 10th season with the company, veteran indigenous actress Jani Lauzon starring in a new play in her first – and Juno-winning world singer Kiran Ahluwalia making her theatrical debut anywhere.

As it casts a season of work themed around the idea of identity for Canada's sesquicentennial year, the Stratford Festival is both calling upon faces very familiar to its audience and tapping into new talent.

"The diversity of the playbill calls for many different types of performance – we have classics from four centuries, a Greek tragedy, a family show, a golden age musical, an operetta and new work that incorporates indigenous ritual, puppetry and traditional Punjabi song," says Stratford's artistic director Antoni Cimolino.

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"These productions call for actors with vastly different skill sets and points of view."

Director Chris Abraham's late-opening production of Molière's Tartuffe (in a translation by Ranjit Bolt) has instantly jumped to must-see status now that Rooney, one of the country's best comic actors, is on board to play the titular religious hypocrite.

Directed by Antoni Cimolino and Shelagh OBrien. Credit: Stratford Festival. Tom Rooney as Polonius with Jonathan Goad, background, as Hamlet in Hamlet.

Directed by Antoni Cimolino and Shelagh OBrien. Credit: Stratford Festival. Tom Rooney as Polonius with Jonathan Goad, background, as Hamlet in Hamlet.

David Hou

Graham Abbey, Maev Beaty, Michael Blake, Rosemary Dunsmore and Anusree Roy will co-star as the members of the household that Tartuffe turns upside down.

Meanwhile, in Stratford's studio theatre, Lauzon, a co-founder of the groundbreaking Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, will star as Aga in Colleen Murphy's The Breathing Hole. Randy Hughson will join her to play Sir John Franklin in this intriguing new saga set over 500 years in Canada's North, beginning at first contact and ending in the future.

As for Ahluwalia, she will be providing Punjabi-inspired vocals for a newly revised version of Sharon Pollock's 1976 play The Komagata Maru Incident – about a Japanese freighter carrying passengers from the British Raj that was turned away from Canada in 1914. Quelemia Sparrow, another newcomer to Stratford, will take the central role of the master of ceremonies in Pollock's play – and the cast will also include Jasmine Chen, Tyrone Savage and Diana Tso.

Promo photo of Jani Lauzon in

Promo photo of Jani Lauzon in “The Breathing Hole” at Stratford Festival.

Handout/Stratford Festival

An announcement Stratford is releasing Monday will outline the majority of the casting for all 14 productions the repertory theatre company has on tap in the new year. Some highlights:

  • Treasure Island: In playwright Nicolas Billon’s new stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous adventure book, recent National Theatre School grad Thomas Mitchell Barnet will star as the teen protagonist Jim Hawkins – while veteran swashbuckler Juan Chioran will take on the pirate Long John Silver.
  • H.M.S. Pinafore: Jennifer Rider-Shaw (Crazy for You) and Mark Uhre (Les Misérables in Toronto and on Broadway) will play the central lovers in Stratford’s latest foray into Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Two of Canada’s funniest musical theatre actors, Lisa Horner and Steve Ross, will fill out the plum roles of Little Buttercup and Captain Corcoran.
  • Stephen Ouimette’s production of Timon of Athens will reunite Joseph Ziegler and Tim Campbell after their gut-wrenching performances in this season’s All My Sons. Ziegler will star as the titular miser, while Campbell will play his good friend Alcibiades. Ben Carlson and Michael Spencer-Davis will also be in the cast as Apemantus and Flavius, respectively, in this lesser-known play by Shakespeare – likely co-written with Thomas Middleton.
  • Carlson, returning to the classics after a couple of seasons of starring in musicals, will also take the key role of the hit man De Flores in Middleton and William Rowley’s 1622 tragedy, The Changeling. Mikaela Davies, who made a strong impression this season in Breath of Kings, plays the hit-man-hiring Beatrice-Joanna, while Cyrus Lane is her beloved Alsemero.
  • The School for Scandal: Jumping ahead to the 18th century, Ziegler will play Sir Oliver Surface opposite Tony-winner Brent Carver’s Rowley in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. Geraint Wyn Davies will be Sir Peter Teazle, Shannon Taylor his young wife Lady Teazle, and Maev Beaty the wonderfully named Lady Sneerwell in this production directed by Antoni Cimolino.
  • In 2017, Seana McKenna is back to play the title character in Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot, as well as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet in the Festival Theatre.
  • Lucy Peacock, another festival favourite, will return to star as Agave in a new version of Euripides’s Bakkhai (often known as The Bacchae) by poet Anne Carson. Mac Fyfe will be on hand to play theatre’s favourite god Dionysus, while Graham Abbey will see all as Tiresias.
  • The Virgin Trial, Kate Hennig’s sequel to her hit revisionist Tudor drama, The Last Wife, will feature up-and-comer Bahia Watson reprising the role of Bess – a.k.a. the future Elizabeth I. Sara Farb will again play her sister Mary, while Laura Condlln, Yanna McIntosh and Brad Hodder round out the cast in this eagerly anticipated new work.

The Globe and Mail previously reported on the principal casting of Guys and Dolls, Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, officially announced Monday. A few previously unrevealed cast members of the latter: Geraint Wyn Davies will play Sir Toby Belch opposite Rooney's Sir Andrew Aguecheek, while Rod Beattie – best-known for his performances in Dan Needles's Wingfield series of plays – will don the cross-gartered stocking in the role of Malvolio. Shannon Taylor (Shakespeare in Love) will complete the quartet of lovers as the reclusive Olivia.

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Tickets for the 2017 season go on sale to members of the Stratford Festival on Nov. 28 – and, to the public, in January.

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