the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Betrayal, Murder, Public Blindings, and Other Cultural Delights

Okay, here's the story of our trip to Stratford!

I wonder how long this post will take....

Thursday

Thursday we packed up my Jetta and left town about 10 am. It was a lovely day, though hotter and more humid than the forecast had otherwise suggested. I managed to not kill either of us (or my already-replaced-once bumper) in Detroit when we had to dodge a fallen orange barrel in the narrow freeway detour route, and got my cardio at the same time.

After crossing the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, we stopped at a Swiss Chalet for lunch -- probably the biggest food mistake I've made in awhile. I had the Grilled Santa Fe Chicken Breast Sandwich, which was sort of like a bizarre Canadian impressionist idea of what southwestern food might be like. Imagine a plain grilled chicken breast between two stale buns, with a single lonely roasted red pepper as its only topping. Now, serve that with the world's saddest tortilla chips -- drably off-color, crisp but slightly chewy to the tooth, and covered with salt as if to make up for these other shortcomings. The menu says "Santa Fe", so the chips have to come with salsa, which seems to essentially be watery ketchup with onions and pepper bits in it. And don't forget the mountain of fries. I now have a whole new respect for the crappy Mexican/southwest food that we get in Ohio; at least in Ohio there is a passing acquaintance with how the food might taste if it was made right.

We got into Stratford about four o'clock, checked into the B&B; where we were staying, and unwound for a while before going out to investigate the town. This B&B; completely exceeded both of our expectations -- we had apparently neglected to note that they were on four acres of grounds, where most houses in the area are on less than one-tenth of that. The house was immaculately kept, the grounds and garden were delightful (I am particularly fond of the lazy stream that runs through the edge of the property), and breakfasts were to die for. We stayed away from the newspapers and TV's, and quickly lost track of what day it was.

Since we had no play to see that night, we wandered through town a bit, visiting some very tempting art galleries, but finding the most fun at Family & Company, possibly the most fantastic toy store I have ever been to. Words cannot do the place justice. We picked up Christmas gifts for our nieces (hopefully not reading this), a Squidgie Ball, an aptly-named Boink, some Lilo & Stitch stickers, and a Nerds Rope for me. Woo!!!

We ate the first of our tasty dinners at Pazzo's, opting for the downstairs pizzeria. We had the Sophia Loren (smoked gouda, roasted red onion, pancetta and roasted red peppers), as well as tasty salads, and vanilla panna cotta and grappa for dessert. Grappa is very exciting stuff, and now I understand why Ohio doesn't let you bring it into the state. :-)

After all that excitement, it was time to get a good night's sleep, since we had a lot of hard work ahead of us... Four heavy, heavy Shakespare plays in two days!

Friday

Friday morning we poked around town a bit, generally trying to look without spending; since we were on foot the entire weekend, anything we bought had to get dragged to two plays and dinner with us.

That afternoon was the first of the plays we would see, Henry VI: Revenge in France. This play is a streamlining and deft edit of the original 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI, bringing them together to form one mean mother of a history. Saturday afternoon we would follow that with Henry VI: Revolt in England, the same director's condensed combination of 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI. These two plays proved to be the most magnificent gem of the festival for us, as they skillfully combined perfect costumes, dramatic lighting, special effects (smoke, blacklight, pyrotechnics, music and ambient sound effects), and the tighter, meaner plot to engulf the audience in the turmoil of Henry's reign. I never would have thought these particularly cumbersome histories would sizzle with such life.

Dinner on Friday was again from Pazzo's, this time the ristorante upstairs. Liz had the grouper, and I had the stuffed veal tenderloin. Yum!

After dinner we had to dash across town again for King Lear, the one disappointing play that we saw, and not just because it was the only one without any decapitations. Christopher Plummer as Lear was absolutely stunning, simply perfect. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast couldn't hold a candle to him, and many seemed to be in a hurry to rush through their lines so that Plummer would be onstage again and carry the show. There seemed also to be pieces left out that Liz and I missed, that would have given the performance a more complete feeling. I suspect that the festival schedule was simply too ambitious, with the talent spread thin across too many big plays. On the other hand, I can hardly complain if the worst thing I saw was Christopher Plummer playing Lear! And the play features an on-stage blinding, so that makes up somewhat for the lower blood level (as compared to all of the Wars of the Roses plays). I was expecting much more violence after having seen Ran first (probably my mistake there).

Saturday

Saturday, as mentioned above, we saw the second of the Henry VI plays, then had dinner at the dining room of Foster's Inn, where our meal was excellent save for the baffling choice of planting a giant dollop of sour cream atop my otherwise-perfect halibut. Then it was across the street to the theatre for Richard III: Reign of Terror, the conclusion of the "Wars of the Roses" and the last of the plays that we would see. It was a different company than that performing the Henry plays, so there were obvious discontinuities in staging (different theatre, for one!), costuming, style, and so forth -- most notably that the Richard from the afternoon's play was "affected" on the left side of his body, while the Richard from the evening was misshapen on the right! A few actors crossed over from other plays, and it was especially nice to see the same actor as both Henry VI in the matinees and Henry VI's ghost in Richard. All in all, it was a fine performance, but not quite as stunning and electric as Henry.

We picked up a "Wars of the Roses" poster to frame later, possibly with the covers from the playbills for the three plays, and a stylin' black "Wars of the Roses" t-shirt for me (sadly, no link).

Sunday

On Sunday we realized that we had to return to the real world, and so after another delicious breakfast, we hit the road for Cleveland. We stopped along the way for sandwiches at a Tim Horton's (marginally acceptable, but worlds better than Swiss Chalet).

We made it back across the bridge and border without incident, only to be caught in an hour-long traffic jam nightmare in Detroit. Due to the construction, they have closed the northbound I-75 to all vehicles save trucks and local traffic, and there is a well-marked detour route. However, they are also undertaking ghastly devastation to the southbound lanes as well, only without such a detour. Traffic was backed up for miles, and we eventually learned all the reasons why:

Traffic in four lanes had to converge to two lanes, but...

...after a mile or so traffic was again four lanes...

...only to become two lanes in half a mile...

...one of which was an impending exit-only...

...after which the one-lane road threaded its way past three or four different flaggers, who would jam things up long enough for construction equipment to sling movable wall segments across from one side of the road to another.

All the while, we could get no traffic news thanks to the Tigers game, and all we could do was crawl along and wonder if, in three days of not watching television, Detroit had been bombed without anyone having told us.

Finally we arrived back in Cleveland, exhausted but relaxed, and all was again well. We rounded out the night with a home-cooked meal and the latest episode of The Sopranos, then it was off to bed so that Liz could be off to Pittsburgh in the early morning.

...Whew! Only an hour and forty-five minutes!

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