By Matthew Behrens
For thousands of Ottawa residents, no summer calendar is complete without a visit to the Classic Theatre Festival. That journey just got easier with the festival’s highly anticipated re-launch this August at Arts Court Theatre following a successful decade in Perth.
This award-winning professional company – which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 before the pandemic – hosts some of Canada’s top theatrical talent performing timeless hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London stage. The company’s board decided that a move to Ottawa, where over half of its audience lives, made the most sense as the festival emerged from two years of shutdown.
For those who have been missing that special summer theatre feeling of gathering with family and friends to share in a story well told, the festival will stage a Tony “Best Play” award winner. Running eight times a week from August 5 to 28, Jan de Hartog’s The Fourposter is an enduring, comedic chronicle of a marriage during an era of world-shaking social changes. This beloved Broadway classic – which follows a couple through 35 years of marriage, from a nervous wedding night through childbirth and parenting, mid-life crisis, empty nesting and the realities of aging – is, in the words of artistic producer Laurel Smith, “both a tender and at times incredibly funny exploration of an institution that most of us participate in and complain about a lot, but which ultimately represents the foundation for so many adult lives.”
Legendary marital comedy
The smash-hit original Broadway production, starring real-life couple Jessica Tandy and husband (and Canadian) Hume Cronyn, was described by a New York Times reviewer as “the most civilized comedy we have had on marriage for years.” A musical version of the play, I Do, I Do, played on Broadway in the 1960s.
Playwright de Hartog led a busy life as a Nobel prize-nominated author and social critic who first rose to prominence with a novel celebrating Dutch sailors, published days before Nazis occupied the Netherlands. The novel drew the ire of the Nazis and de Hartog was forced into hiding.
While disguised as an elderly woman in a nursing home, Jan came up with the idea for the play. Lying in a four-poster bed, he imagined a life he might not live, given the high mortality rate of anti-Nazi partisans. He then participated in nonviolent resistance to the occupation, hid Jewish children and eventually escaped the Gestapo.
Plays with a special feeling
“The plays of the festival’s mandate period have a special feeling like many of us get watching Turner Classic Movies,” explains Smith. “There’s a universal quality to them that speaks to our hopes, dreams and common humanity. They remind us of our species’ remarkable capacity to overcome seemingly impossible barriers with good storytelling, fantastic humour and characters you just want to embrace and take home after the show.”
The festival promises a “Summer Theatre in the Capital” experience that recreates the milieu that made it a popular Perth destination. An entertaining and informative pre-show talk half an hour before the curtain rises situates audiences in the play’s period, exploring social and cultural references not familiar to everyone. The lobby hosts a loonie-toonie book sale boasting rare finds. Sale proceeds fund the festival’s Save-a-Seat program, which partners with social services agencies to provide free tickets to low-income community members, allowing them to attend the theatre in dignity.
“Live theatre is an unforgettable experience and should be accessible to all,” Smith says of Save-a-Seat, which distributed 2,500 free tickets during the festival’s first decade. “It shows how the arts can contribute to community cohesion.”
Arts Court Theatre is fully accessible and air conditioned and it will feature newly installed True HEPA air cleaners. All staff and volunteers are vaccinated and masked and audience members will require masks to enter the theatre space.
“This horrible virus is still with us, so we seek to create the safest possible space for the most vulnerable: the elderly, immuno-compromised and others vulnerable to the ravages of this pandemic,” says Smith.
Discounts for Glebe Report readers!
The Fourposter runs at Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave., August 5 to 28, from Wednesday to Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Glebe Report readers will enjoy a 10-per-cent discount on ticket purchases when ordering by phone and mentioning this article.
To order tickets, visit classictheatre.ca or call (613) 695-9330.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance journalist and associate producer with the Classic Theatre Festival.