- The Avon and Third Stage
- Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 10, Number 1, February 1975
- pp. 57-62
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The Avon and Third Stage B. W. JACKSON As I write, changes are taking place within the Avon Theatre at Stratford. Workmen are redecorating the auditorium and constructing an adaptable, all-purpose set for the stage. Next summer Shakespeare and Arthur Miller will be seen there, establishing two firsts for the Festival: Shakespeare on a proscenium stage, and the performance of a work by an American playwright. So the 1974 presentation of Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne was the last entertainment to take place in the Avon interior that we have known since 1963 when Tanya Moiseiwitsch refurbished the old theatre. It was also Jean Gascon's final production at Stratford as Artistic Director of the Festival. The new arrangements at the Avon in no way preclude the presentation of musical shows there, and doubtless M. Gascon will return on occasions as a visiting director, yet his La Vie Parisienne can be seen as marking the end of a period in the Avon's history and rounding out a decade of achievement for Jean Gascon in a theatre for which I believe he has a special fondness. During his time at Stratford he gave us many good things. There were, in all, twenty-one productions, of which three were re-staged for second seasons. Of the twenty-one, ten were at the Avon, and of that ten, six were musical shows. At the Festival Theatre he was at his best with Moliere, with the lesser known of Shakespeare's plays, and with the works of S h a k e s pea re' s contemporaries. Of his Tartuffe in 1968, Walter Kerr wrote, "A man would have to be mad to expect a better production in his lifetime, or even to have hoped for so good a one." 1 The same kind of thing might be said about his Cymbeline, his Duchess of Malfi and his Pericles, productions which demonstrated not only his usual vitality, technical excellence and theatrical flair, but also his rarest gift as a director , the sensibility that allows him to underJournal of Canadian Studies stand a play totally, to capture its spirit and establish its character by getting its anatomy right. Not all his work at the Festival Theatre achieved the very high standard of these four. Sometimes, as with his Comedy of Errors and his Taming of the Shrew, a sort of exuberant theatricality flooded a production , providing colourful and lively entertainment but obliterating the subtler values of the play. Sometimes, as with his Merchant of Venice and, perhaps, his Alchemist, one sensed that he had laboured to find the play, and then, the exigencies of theatre being what they are, had had to settle for the shadow without the substance. I have always felt that for Jean Gascon the Festival stage has been a formidable foe to wrestle with. He has gone at the combats with a high heart, and in the main his victories have been glorious, but occasionally he has had to accept a draw, now and again a defeat. He has mastered that stage as well as any man, and better than most - only Michael Langham, I think, has been his equal there - but, although he has respected the Festival Theatre and met its challenge, his happiest moments, I suspect, have been at the Avon. There his work has been uniformly excellent , marked by an ease and assurance, and, when appropriate, a warmth and gaiety suggestive of a good host in his own home. The Dance of Death, in which he played the Captain as well as directing, was that rare event, a completely satisfying performance of a Strindberg play. Most productions give us the snarling ferocity of the marital combat ; this one gave Strindberg's work its full stature by showing each antagonist as vulnerable to the tragic awareness that commitment to the destruction of the other was self-destroying. Jean Gascon matched his achievement in tragedy by directing the most triumphant presentation of comedy seen at the Avon to date. His production of Feydeau's Le Dindon was witty, elegant and unabashedly frivolous, constructed of the precisely calculated absurdities that give the 57 artefact of high comedy its fragile...