NATHAN THE WISE is Now On Stage At The Stratford Festival
Nathan the Wise, the rarely seen masterpiece of the eighteenth-century German Enlightenment, hits the stage in Stratford this weekend. Directed by Birgit Schreyer Duarte, and starring Diane Flacks in the title role, the production begins previews on Saturday, May 25, at the Studio Theatre, followed by its official opening performance on June 15.
Written by dramatist and philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the play is set in an imagined version of Jerusalem, and depicts a society in which Muslims, Christians and Jews live together in a state of uneasy truce. Upon learning that his daughter has fallen in love with a Christian, the wealthy Jew, Nathan, faces a dangerous question from the Muslim Sultan: which is the one true faith? Nathan cleverly deflects the question, but the problem of how the young lovers can reconcile their love with their different faiths remains - until Nathan begins to suspect that there may exist a different kind of bond between them.
"This play discusses what happens when we open ourselves up to truly consider a foreign perspective and how that might affect our own ideas of where we stand," says Schreyer Duarte. "These kinds of processes can be painful, destabilizing, and disorienting, and can profoundly affect our own sense of self. But they can also offer us entirely new ways of seeing if we allow ourselves to adjust our viewpoints, interrogate our own assumptions, ask ourselves where they come from and if they still hold true."
In her fourth season, Schreyer Duarte is making her Stratford directorial debut. She served as assistant director of 2013's Mary Stuart and 2014's King Lear, as part of the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction, and returned in 2015 as translator of The Physicists.
Flacks, in her Stratford debut, plays Nathan, with Jakob Ehman as the Templar, Danny Ghantous as Saladin, the Muslim Sultan, Sarah Orenstein as Daya, the Christian nurse whom Nathan employs, and Oksana Sirju as Nathan's daughter, Rachel.
The creative team includes Set Designer Teresa Przybylski, Costume Designer Michelle Tracey, Lighting Designer Steve Lucas and Sound Designer Debashis Sinha.
In exploring this season's theme of Breaking Boundaries, Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has programmed Nathan the Wise with a companion piece, Wajdi Mouawad's Birds of a Kind, an award-winning play about a modern Israeli family. Though the plays are widely separated by time and place, breaking the boundaries of identity figures prominently in both works.
"Both Nathan the Wise and Birds of a Kind deal with personal origins," says Cimolino. "All of us have origins - be they cultural, religious, traditional or family-based - and these things may not ring true with who we really are at our core. Nathan the Wise in particular poses complex questions about such boundaries. Are we the sum total of our traditions, language and symbols - or are we sentient beings able to make decisions in pursuit of happiness?"
At the Forum, artists and expert guests will explore the ideas and issues raised in Nathan the Wise in a series of panel discussions. On June 26, Human Rights Consultant Len Rudner will moderate Jewish Perspectives on Peace, a conversation among advocates in the Jewish community about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and potential approaches to peacemaking. On August 25, Dr. Laura Morlock of the Ryerson University Faculty of Communication and Design will moderate Three Faiths, Two Nations, One Land, an interfaith panel in which guests will discuss how their respective communities in North America might model respectful resolution.
For tickets and a full list of the Forum events offered almost every day throughout the season, please visit: stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/TheForum.