McKenna, Maxwell Star in Wertenbaker's New Phèdre at Stratford Festival

News   McKenna, Maxwell Star in Wertenbaker's New Phèdre at Stratford Festival
Timberlake Wertenbaker's new translation of Jean Racine's 1677 tragedy, Phèdre, starring Seana McKenna and Roberta Maxwell, opens in a world premiere production Aug. 22 after previews from Aug. 6 at the Stratford Shakespeare Theatre in Canada.
Ph Photo by David Hou

The staging is a co-production of Stratford and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. The Canadian runs plays in rep to Oct. 3 at the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

A.C.T.'s artistic director Carey Perloff directs. The script, commissioned by A.C.T., was workshopped at Stratford in October 2008, in what Perloff described as "an extraordinary week of work spearheaded by the unparalleled talent and ferocity of Seana McKenna and Jonathan Goad."

Celebrated playwright Wertenbaker is best known for her play Our Country's Good, which won the Olivier Award for Best Play in 1988, was nominated for a Tony for its 1991 Broadway production and won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best New Foreign Play. She has adapted and translated work by Marivaux, Anouilh, Maeterlinck, Pirandello, Sophocles, Euripides and Preissova.

According to Stratford, "Phèdre is a classical play whose heartbeat remains astonishingly potent today. It was born out of a highly formal 17th-century Catholic culture with enormous sexual taboos and clear social hierarchies, but the sensual heat and beautiful poetry of Ms. Wertenbaker's translation will speak beautifully to a modern audience. The play begins with a terrible secret: the passionate, uncontrollable love of Phèdre for her stepson, Hippolytus. Over the course of a taut and thrilling journey, secret upon secret is exposed and the tide of erotic love threatens to overwhelm the entire societal structure of the court of Theseus."

Perloff said in a statement, "I am amazed at the muscularity of Stratford's acting company, who perform major classics in repertory for eight months in large-scale houses. In particular, Seana McKenna is a remarkable talent, capable of keeping audiences on the edge of their seats through Racine's erotic and complicated tragedy. It is such a joy to see this amazing play in the hands of such remarkable actors, who are as fearless as they are skilled." In addition to McKenna in the title role, Maxwell as Oenone, the nurse, and Goad as Hippolytus, the production features Sean Arbuckle as Théramène, Dalal Badr as Ismène, Claire Lautier as Aricie, and Tom McCamus as Theseus.

The production team includes designer Christina Poddubiuk, lighting designer Louise Guinand, composer David Lang Stunt coordinator Simon Fon, stage manager Anne Murphy and production stage managers Janine Ralph and Jennifer Schamehorn.

This year McKenna celebrates 30 years as a professional actor, in more than 100 productions across Canada and the U.S. She has won three Dora Awards, a Jessie and a Genie, has performed in 18 seasons at Stratford and has played 20 of Shakespeare’s leading ladies, including his wife in Shakespeare's Will in 2007. Last season she played Andromache in The Trojan Women to great acclaim, after which she reprised her much lauded Medea at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and at the Mirvish's Canon Theatre in Toronto.

Maxwell returns to the Festival for her 14th season, having begun her acting career here as an apprentice to founding artistic director Sir Tyrone Guthrie. Her return this season marks her sixth decade of involvement with the Festival. She has played leading roles in New York — including her award-winning Mary Stuart, directed by Des McAnuff — at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theater, where she also triumphed in Ashes. She has performed across the U.S. and has appeared in such films as "Popeye," "Dead Man Walking" and "Brokeback Mountain."

Perloff has been artistic director of the acclaimed American Conservatory Theater since 1993. She has directed dozens of award-winning productions for A.C.T., including the American premières of works by Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and Timberlake Wertenbaker, as well as world premières by Philip Kan Gotanda, Constance Congden and Mac Wellman. Phèdre will play A.C.T. Jan. 15-Feb. 7, 2010. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (800) 567-1600 or order online by visiting

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