The­atre al­fresco: our roundup of T.O.’s top out­door pro­duc­tions this sum­mer

Diane D’Aquila is a vet­eran of the Strat­ford Fes­ti­val by Steve Fisher

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When it comes to Shake­spearean roles, there are a few that ev­ery clas­si­cal ac­tor dreams of play­ing, such as Prince Ham­let, King Mac­beth and King Lear — the star­ring roles in plays most of us read in high school.

The is­sue is that th­ese roles are all writ­ten for men — a prob­lem that ac­tu­ally wors­ened in west­ern the­atre af­ter Shake­speare, with so few 19th- and 20th-cen­tury play­wrights writ­ing sub­stan­tial roles for women.

But a re­cent trend in cast­ing and in­ter­pret­ing clas­si­cal work is see­ing the best stage roles reimag­ined as gen­der neu­tral.

This spring, Toronto’s Why Not The­atre pro­duced its adap­ta­tion with ac­tors Chris­tine Horne, Maria Vacratis and Dawn Jani Bir­ley (who is a deaf per­former) in the key roles of Ham­let, Polo­nius and Ho­ra­tio re­spec­tively.

And last sum­mer, Shake­speare in


This year, this Toronto per­for­mance fes­ti­val ded­i­cates a por­tion of its lineup to al­ter­na­tive out­door venues, in­clud­ing the pool at Trin­ity Bell­woods and Shaw Park, the Ruff’s pro­duc­tion of

in Withrow Park also fea­tured gen­der-neu­tral roles, with Vivien Endi­cott-Douglas play­ing a gen­der-fluid Romeo.

Rein­ter­pre­ta­tions such as th­ese can mean fe­male stage ac­tors ac­tu­ally have roles avail­able to them when so few are writ­ten for mid­dleaged and older women es­pe­cially.

This can be a boon for au­di­ences, who can wit­ness great per­for­mances and in­ter­est­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions, so long as they’re open-minded enough not to get hung up on the orig­i­nal gen­der of roles.

That’s very much the case at Cana­dian Stage’s Shake­speare in High Park pro­duc­tion of with Diane D’Aquila, a Strat­ford Fes­ti­val vet­eran, as the mad king, now queen. D’Aquila im­bues the com­plex Lear with im­pe­ri­ous au­thor­ity and ar­ro­gance early in the play, right­eous fury that turns to un­bri­dled men­tal tur­moil — as her


Lo­cated in idyl­lic Mill­brook in a charm­ing ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment, 4th of­fers up Robert Winslow’s The His­tory of Drink­ing in Ca­van, from Aug. 7 to 26, 4thlinethe­ queen is usurped by her schem­ing older daugh­ters Goneril (Naomi Wright) and Re­gan (Han­nah Wayne-Phillips) — and pathos as she be­gins to view the world through dif­fer­ent eyes.

D’Aquila’s Lear is ac­com­pa­nied by Jenni Burke as the faith­ful Count­ess of Kent, a role tra­di­tion­ally re­served for a ro­bust lead­ing man type.

The show isn’t a com­plete tri­umph, but a pro­duc­tion of

hinges on the ti­tle role, and D’Aquila is ter­rific; when she raged in her storm scene, a sud­den sus­tained gust of wind blew through the am­phithe­atre, in a pique of pa­thetic fal­lacy. We’ll be back again to see

which plays in reper­tory with in part to see Amelia Sar­gis­son, so good in her brief stage time as loyal princess Cordelia, in the plum role of Vi­ola.


L–R: Amelia Sar­gis­son and Diane D’Aquila in ‘King Lear’

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