America Jr.

Windsor tunnel
Going to Canada via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Clear sailing to Canada, bumper-to-bumper to Detroit. The falling dollar is very good for Canadian shoppers.

I have a framed photo on my desk of three people, standing on a corner in Stratford, Ontario — Alan, and a couple who would come to be known far and wide in blogdom as Lance Mannion and the Blonde, although then I knew them by their pre-internet names. It wasn’t our first trip, after which Lance was inspired to make the Blonde a homemade birthday card, but it was a while ago. Lance, the Blonde, Alan and I and sometimes others used to go every year around this time, drawn by the Stratford Festival, one of the best Shakespeare repertory companies in North America. (We women had a secret reason to go — Colm Feore — although “secret” implies we kept it to ourselves, and we jabbered about his strange stage magnetism non-stop.) We’d leave on Friday and come back Sunday, seeing two or three plays in that time, one or two of Will’s and usually another; the bill in most seasons is only about one-third Shakespeare and the rest other classics, including at least one musical.

We were so kulchuhed by the end, we made Lance drive all the way home, seven hours back to Indiana. Not that he ever gave up the wheel willingly.

But those were good times, and I look back on those fall weekends with great fondness, even the one where I got into a fight with Lance’s poet friend Steve, without quite knowing we were fighting until he stomped out of the room. That was the weekend we stayed in a B&B and it was Canadian Thanksgiving, and the owners of the house had their family home for the holiday. The family slept in sleeping bags in the parlor and scowled at us, the Yanks, the usurpers. Scowl at your parents, folks — they’re the ones who chose commerce over family.

Anyway, the bad thing about the trip was the drive, which could never be made less onerous. So when we moved to Detroit, effectively slicing it in half, I thought we’d be at Stratford more often. And then 2005 passed without a visit, and 2006, and I vowed 2007 wouldn’t get away from me, and it nearly did anyway. With the season dwindling, it was time to pull the trigger for at least an overnight stay, with the kid, and so we snatched up the last tickets to “Oklahoma!” and booked a room. It would have been nice to see Brian Bedford in “King Lear,” but even a good-tempered 10-year-old would balk at that one. I considered a Sunday matinee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” to round out the trip, but seeing two classic American stories produced by Canadians seemed a little strange, and besides — sold out.

So it was one night, one play, one theater. This one:

Festival Theater

It’s a great stage, a thrust stage, not huge but perfect for Shakespeare, with a balcony and two downstage entrances, a trap door and everything else you need for ghosts and lovers and swordplay. But it’s really amazing what a good director can do with a musical, even a rowdy, dance-y, busy one like “Oklahoma!” In 1996 we saw “The Music Man” there, and it was glorious — if there weren’t 76 trombones onstage, it sure seemed that way.

“Oklahoma!” didn’t disappoint, either. That’s the thing about these old Broadway classics — even if someone’s having a bad night, there’s enough buoyancy in the rest of the production to carry it along. And no one was having a bad night, although Aunt Eller’s understudy was taking her part, and she was not only young enough that she looked like Laurey’s sister, she was pretty hot, too. Dan Chameroy was an excellent Curly, with a nice rich tenor and the requisite curls. (As a former bad girl and pervert, of course I found Jamie McKnight’s Jud Fry much more appealing, but I can understand why a blonde virgin like Laurey wouldn’t want him.) Kate, who had to stay up a whole two hours past her bedtime to see the whole thing, was only politely approving, but I caught her humming the main theme the next day, so I have to assume it was a success.

Of course, travel is very broadening, and always in an unexpected way. Kate spent the weekend being amused that the Cheetos bag from the vending machine described its contents as “soufflés.” Canada is a bilingual country, don’t you know:

Toujours frais

And then we were headed home. I remember, back in those pre-9/11 days with Lance and the Blonde, sailing through customs at the border. Ah, no more. It was a 45-minute backup at the Blue Water Bridge, at Sarnia/Port Huron. At least the view is prettier than the tunnel:

View from the Blue

It’s good to be home. Bloggage later. Time to go pick up the dog.

UPDATE: Lance reminds me he wrote about our Stratford trips a couple years ago, and remembers an incident I’d pretty much forgotten — the time we ran into Colm Feore on that wide green lawn in the picture above. Bonus: Picture of me c. 1995, wearing some hideous pink thing.

Posted at 8:23 am in Same ol' same ol' |

15 responses to “America Jr.”

  1. Connie said on October 22, 2007 at 9:53 am

    My very first experience of live Shakespeare was seeing King Lear at Stratford as a teenager. Quite an introduction.

    117 chars

  2. Julie Robinson said on October 22, 2007 at 10:19 am

    My less-than-well-to-do family used to go to Stratford regularly when I was growing up, so the ticket prices were a shocker when we went in July 2005. But the shows were such a marvel, they were worth every penny. The future? Between the poor exchange rate and passport necessity, I think the festival will see fewer American visitors in the future. What a pity. Has anyone attended the Shaw festival in New York? I’ve heard some rave reviews of their work.

    462 chars

  3. alex said on October 22, 2007 at 11:08 am

    My folks do the Shaw festival every summer and they’re nuts for it.

    Last Shakespeare thing I ever saw was in Chicago, a Hamlet ruined the same way it was in The Goodbye Girl. I went as a favor to a friend who was the development director of the theater where this travesty took place.

    Very much doubt I’ll ever try to suffer through another production of Shakespeare in my lifetime. I was force-fed too much of it in college.

    447 chars

  4. John said on October 22, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Not to step on toes Alex (as you are the wittiest and most vicious poster here), but Richard III is the play ruined in The Goodbye Girl. Hilariously ruined, I thought.

    168 chars

  5. nancy said on October 22, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Julie, if you haven’t been to New York lately, let me tell you: Those Stratford prices are a bargain, even with no exchange-rate advantage. I just read what Mel Brooks’ top rate will be for the musical “Young Frankenstein” when it opens later in the fall. Sitting down?


    The musical is always the most expensive show at Stratford, for obvious reasons, but with shoulder-season price cuts and the like, we ended up paying $70 each for Alan and me, and Kate got the “family” rate of $39.95. Not too bad for a show as well-done as this one was.

    And John’s right — it was “Richard III.” We saw that with Colm Feore, too. The last “Hamlet” I saw was in London, with Stephen Dillane (who played Horatio in the Mel Gibson movie version). It was fantastic.

    852 chars

  6. alex said on October 22, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Goodbye Girl was nearly three decades’ worth of brain cells ago. So it was Richard III.

    94 chars

  7. brian stouder said on October 22, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    A comment from the backseat –

    if it’s dangerous and illegal to text-while-driving, it can’t be much safer to snap pictures while whizzing along with one’s right fenders inches from a brick wall, and one’s left fenders inches from hordes of cash-laden invading Canadians!

    (only kidding – but when I first saw the picture at the head of this post, I thought it was going to be a Princess Diana thing….and we know how THAT turned out)

    440 chars

  8. nancy said on October 22, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    It was a total Hail Mary. Didn’t even look through the viewfinder — just turned it on, doused the flash and took a chance.

    And “whizzing” is a pretty generous way to describe 35 mph.

    I like to take the tunnel because it’s one of only two sub-aquatic international border crossings in the world. Also, no trucks.

    EDIT: I’m wrong. There’s a train tunnel farther north, which makes the D-W tunnel one of three, along with the Channel Tunnel in UK/France, of course. The D-W tunnel calls itself the only vehicular international border crossing that passes under a body of water, technically true — the Chunnel is rail-only.

    641 chars

  9. derwood said on October 22, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Wife has always wanted to go to the Stratford fesitval. Tim Hortons…mmmmmmmm.

    TimBits are the best!

    104 chars

  10. Julie Robinson said on October 22, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    I read the same story about Young Frankenstein ticket prices. Stratford was comparable with the show we saw in Chicago that year, but those prices have gone up exponentially too. Unless you live there and buy a season ticket for a Tuesday or Wednesday; then you can go as low as $25.

    I’ll have to ask Mom if she thinks tickets have inflated more than other prices. We went into Chicago several times a year to see plays, the symphony or ballet. And for most of that time we had one income and one car. We never went on big vacations or had fancy goodies; in fact, our house was uncarpeted until we’d lived there four years. Plywood–can you say splinters?

    664 chars

  11. brian stouder said on October 22, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Well, I’ve been on the bridge at Port Huron, but not the Detroit/Windsor tunnel. But we went through the tunnel at the south end of the Chesapeake Bay (from the DelMarVa penninsula to Virginia), and when we toured the Norfolk Naval Base, the sailor leading the group explained that the Nimitz-class carriers draw an approximately 38 foot draft, and the water is about 50 feet deep at that point….so they transit at high-tide, so as to avoid making it the world’s largest car wash!

    The tunnels in the Allegheny mountains as you whizz along the Pennsy Turnpike are pretty impressive; not unusual to drive out of one sort of weather and into another at the other side of the mountain

    685 chars

  12. Lance Mannion said on October 22, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Appreciate the links, Nance, and the memories, but I can’t help noticing that you didn’t link to my post about how you and the blonde went all schoolgirly and giggly and shy when you had the chance to meet Colm in person.

    We saw a lot of plays, and a lot them were Shakespeare’s, and Colm Feore was in most of them. Gee, I wonder how that happened.

    Best Colm performance during our salad days up there: Tie. Iachimo in Cymbeline and Cassius in Julius Caesar.

    Other Great Colms: Petruchio, Iago, The Pirate Kiing in Pirates of Penzance, Athos in The Three Musketeers, Richard III.

    Good Colms: Hamlet; Angelo in Measure for Measure.

    Middling Colm: Mercutio. Too old for the part.

    Only bad Colm: Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.

    753 chars

  13. nancy said on October 22, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    “Oklahoma!” was directed by one Donna Feore, which by my count is Mrs. Feore #3, but IMdB says only #2.

    It also says his first name is pronounced “column.” I’m astounded.

    173 chars

  14. John said on October 23, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Please burn the pink thing…does not serve you well!

    53 chars

  15. Mitch Harper said on October 24, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Nance –

    I can’t believe there was a backup at the Sarnia/Port Huron bridge. Even so, we found last year that the best thing was to drive upriver a little bit – then cross on a ferry at a small town.

    We drove right up; were the last car on; the toll was collected after the ferry started across; then, whammo – across in minutes.

    It was the best international crossing I have ever experienced – except for driving from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.

    474 chars