Stratford Festival 17

MEANDER #3 Sunday 28 May 2017 We’re just home from seeing four productions at the Stratford Festival of Canada, a visit to the New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale, and a visit and feast with family.

The Festival Theatre, one of four venues of the Stratford Festival of Canada in Stratford, Ontario.

The 2017 Stratford Festival includes14 shows, ranging from Shakespeare, musicals, family, classics, and modern. We have been going to the Festival with friends Dean and Gwen Preheim-Bartel for more than 30 years. We saw HMS Pinafore, The School for Scandal, Twelfth Night, Guys and Dolls (Marty and Gwen) and The Changeling (Dean and I).

The Changeling, by Shakespeare contemporaries Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, was licensed in 1622. It’s a gory tragedy, fueled by blood and lust, writes director Jackie Maxwell, noting, “In The Changeling virtually all the characters display a blend of absolute will and complete disregard for consequence.”

The director set the play in Alicanate, Spain, the year1938, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War.

What does a play written in the 17th century, set just  before the Second World War of the 20th century have to say to us today? Enough to peel away not just the havoc caused by the privileged but unempowered daughter of a powerful patriarch, but to shine a spotlight on the and faults of the other characters, too.

In brief, the story line follows the fate of a woman who hires a hit man to murder her fiancé. She becomes trapped in a web of lust and deceit, the program notes say. Director Maxwell writes, “This is not a drama from the past we can distance ourselves from. Lean, focused, endlessly surprising and full of mordant humour, it is a complex and disturbing exploration of sexual desire and power and the terrifying thin line between choice and lack of control.

The Changeling doesn’t simply touch nerves, it grabs them vehemently, making us respond with our own needs and desires and then think about them–very, very carefully indeed.”

The Changeling is not one to see in isolation from other offerings, this season exploring identity, both personal and collective. The identity theme relates to Canada’s 150th birthday. Artistic director Antoni Cimolino writes, ‘[A]s we celebrate our national identity, we might do well to remember that no matter how we name ourselves, actions, not words, will define us.”

Thankfully the Stratford Festival makes it possible for every high school student in Ontario to see a production once during their school years. Live theatre is so important for children and youth people to experience. In a world of increasing electronic media, live theatre engages one in ideas that shape lives. It makes one think, wrestle, laugh, sigh, shout, cry even.  Whether it’s a tragedy, comedy, history, satire, or musical, the plays the thing, you leave a little, or sometimes a lot, changed. Live theatre is a powerful medium to drive home a message to which you have to say more than yes or no. Google “live theatre value.”

The Stratford experience is a gem. It includes world-class theatre, restaurants of every kind and price range, civic pride in beautifully landscaped homes and public spaces, and walkable spaces.

New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale

In New Hamburg, we spend some time at the 51st Mennonite Relief Sale. Like other sales across North America, quilts were the big thing. As were the food concessions and many other sale items. I was delighted to see among the well-organized car parkers a girl of perhaps 11 years old, enthusiastically waving her directional wand. Scores of volunteers, an estimated 2000 strong, make the day a huge success.

This donated tractor sold for $4,500 at the Relief Sale. In the past 50 years the sale has raised more than 12 million dollars for the domestic and international relief and service ministries of Mennonite Central Committee.


We enjoyed an evening gathering of my siblings, spouses and a few others at brother and sister-in-law Brian and Vivian Bender’s home in New Hamburg. What a pleasure to just be together, delicious food notwithstanding. We celebrated three May birthdays.

Oil in the changing saga of energy sources

In the Friday issue of Canada’s National Newspaper, The Globe and Mail, I read how Canada is crafting a policy to boost use of zero-emission vehicles. It promises to be a see-saw between the auto industry and  environmental groups.

Something else that caught my eye in the same newspaper  was a Moment in Time, written by Kelly Cryderman. I quote: “May 26, 1908. London mining magnate William Knox D’Arcy was running out of money and patience, and had sent a telegram to halt the seven-year search for crude oil in the Persian desert. But at the 11th hour, a gusher from the wooden derrick at Masjid-I-Suleiman spurted oil 15 metres high–setting off the oil age in the Middle East and later establishing Iran as a global petroleum power. Right away, the find created the Anglo-Persian Oil Co., a precursor to BP, and powered the Royal Navy’s transition to oil from coal as Europe descended into war. The battle for control of the resource would eventually motivate U.K. and U.S. meddling in Iran, helping to sow seeds of the 1979 Revolution. But that May morning, after enduring disease outbreaks, clashes with bandits and warlords, and temperatures that soared above 50 C, workers took off their hats and rubbed oil over their faces to revel in their fossil-fuel prize.”

If you visit the Oil Museum of Canada at Oil Springs, south of Sarnia, Ontario, you’ll see where oil was first commercially drilled there before anywhere else in the world. It was the mid-1800s. Streets in Paris were paved with byproducts from these wells. From here, Canadian oil men set off to develop the oil wells in the Middle East. I’m recalling this information from a visit to the museum more than 40 years ago. Wouldn’t it be a wonder to see fields of solar energy panels cover the old oil fields?

I’m grateful for safe travel, thought-provoking plays, fun musicals, family (including a visit with  aunt Marie Bender who turns 90 in June), friends, food, service-minded people, satisfactions beyond expectations. And according to Marty, we must see Guys and Dolls (second time for her) on a future trip to Ontario.

Live theatre, do it, again and again!



2 thoughts on “Stratford Festival 17

  1. Thanks, John. We thought of you and Marty today when we went to Meijer Sculpture Gardens with Ginger’s son. It is a picture perfect today here in GR and we are enjoying the cooler weather after a lot of 90 degree days in Florida. Sounds like you enjoyed your time in Ontario with family and watching live theater. Sometimes those two things can merge! Your family birthday cake is lovely and I like the sentiment, “This house runs on Love and Strong Coffee”!

    I was at the Stratford Theater many years ago in the late 60’s after college. We saw some Shakespeare plays and camped out. It was a fun time.

    We have been home one week today and we’re still settling in. A lot to do and get done!

    Monty & Ginger



  2. We are remembering Wagon Wheel for Sunday (believe it or not!). Are we car pooling? Whose turn is it to drive? Sad we need to miss the congregational meeting.
    We are in Wisconsin today. Just had a tour of Culver’s headquarters. Plan to arrive in Goshen tomorrow afternoon. We all have stories to tell!
    Jerry (& Becky)

    Sent from my iPad


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