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Brecht that doesn't come cheap

By Kate Taylor

Susan Gilmour The airy renovation of the Stratford Festival's Avon Theatre was not quite ready in time for Wednesday's opening night. In the spacious new lobby, stairs and walls that will soon be covered in granite and metallic cladding were still exposed, a little reminder of the raw structure behind the showmanship.

In the auditorium, all freshly painted and new upholstered, some rather similar reminders were in place, as actor Stephen Ouimette made his Stratford directing debut with a Threepenny Opera stuffed full of the Brechtian devices that are supposed to get an audience thinking instead of empathizing.

The show opened with a disruption in the audience as a very obvious plant (that's Thom Allison underneath the street person's rags) swore his way up onto the stage, before delivering a throwaway version of Mack the Knife, the song with which dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill began their 1928 musical. It's a brave dismissal of the crowdpleaser that remains Weill's greatest hit, but Ouimette has placed the antidramatic vocal performance in an over-stagy setting.

After the stgehands, and actors usher the disruptive man off-stage, the action begins underneath a large LED sign that prefaces each scene with some plot synopsis in flashing red letters. We are in the premises of Beggar's Big Brother, where the cynical J.J. Peachum (Peter Donaldson) and his drunken wife (Sheila McCarthy) outfit and license mendicants. Darned if the festivals props department haven't given teh pair a million-dollar stock of canes, crutches and wooden legs along with costumes that do funny tricks. Stratford's big-budget instincts and Bertolt Brecht's alienation devices are butting heads here. Ouimette and music director Don Horsburgh offer a Threepenny Opera that is powerfully staged and sung but often lacks the rawness that would really drive its messages home, despite Donaldson's best efforts spitting out anticapitalist tirades at the audience.

The people in Brecht's script merely flirt with full characterization; they are mainly dark cartoons and the cast, lead by Tom McCamus's delicious work in the role of murderous thief Macheath, capture that fully...

But it is Blythe Wilson in the role of Macheath's paramour Lucy Brown, and Susan Gilmour's Jenny...who offer the show-stopping solos here...