Everything We Saw and Thought at the Shaw Festival in Canada, Which You Should Definitely Go To

click to enlarge Everything We Saw and Thought at the Shaw Festival in Canada, Which You Should Definitely Go To
"A Woman of No Importance," Photo By David Cooper, Courtesy of Shaw Festival
Walking down Queen Street, the main shopping boulevard in beautiful Niagara-on-the Lake, during the third week of July, was like being in downtown Cleveland. Cavs championship t-shirts and Indian’s garb were worn by many of the strollers. Our Toronto friends shared that in almost every play they attended, their neighbors on one or both sides of their seats were from the Cleveland area.

Why the population shift? According to some, they wanted to escape the hordes of “foreigners” who were invading the area lovingly called 216/440 (the local area codes) because of the Republican convention. Others contended that “flower-wise” this was “the” time to be in “the most beautiful little city in Canada," as Niagara-on-the Lake is often called. Some liked that this was the height of the fruit season in the area allowed them to purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines. Others were pleased with the offerings in Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell’s last season at The Shaw.

Several mentioned that this is an economically wise year to go north. The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency, making the trip a bargain. At the time I went, the exchange rate gave Americans a 30-cent advantage on each dollar (e.g., a $100 Canadian purchase cost around $70).

The theatre season, entitled “Curiouser and Curiouser,” intended to highlight “a great diversity of work,” including many of Maxwell’s favorite plays.

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries, and contemporary plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.

Having just returned from the festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows:

Engaged by W. S. Gilbert, through October 16, is a comic look at love, marriage and money.

If you are in the mood for a Victorian romp, filled with physical and verbal slapstick and shticks, Engaged is going to be your “thing.” Don’t expect a realistic moral, profound wisdom or thought provoking insights. But, if you are married, you might ask yourself between laughs, “Why did I do it?”

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde, through October 15, is a social commentary which states, “Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.”

Though the script is not of the quality of some of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde’s other comedy of manners plays which satirize English upper society, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, there is enough going for this production, including the quality of the acting, nicely timed laughs, beautiful costumes, and original music, to strongly recommend it.

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God, adapted for the stage by Lisa Codrington from a short story by G. B. Shaw, through September 11, illuminates, “There are a lot of old men pretending to be gods in this forest.”

The commentary labeled The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God is one of the most compelling hour productions that has ever been staged at The Shaw. Ravi Jain’s direction and Natasha Mumba’s performance make this a must see production. Bravo!

Mrs. Warren’s Profession, by G. B. Shaw, through October 16, offers the author’s view that, “There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.”

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is classic Shaw, filled with a critique on the economic system, the double standards applied to men and women, the objectification of women, the British family system, marriage, and parent-child relationships. Unfortunately, the well-conceived script gets a less than stellar production due to some questionable directing decisions and a disappointing performance by the actress in the title role.

Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekov’s script adapted by Annie Baker from the original Russian text, through September 11, carries that author’s message that, “What still gets me is beauty. I’m not indifferent to beauty.”

Jackie Maxwell’s direction of Chekov’s classic tragicomedy is filled with a focused reflection of the hopelessness, waste, boredom and suffocating world of Russia in the late 1800s. The quality cast and technical crew set the right tone for the required realistic aspects of the script.

Alice in Wonderland, adapted for the stage by Peter Hinton, with music by Allen Cole, and based on the book by Lewis Carroll, through October 16, follows Alice down the hole in pursuit of the white rabbit because, “I’ve never seen a rabbit with a pocket watch before … or a waist-coat pocket to take it out of, for that matter.”

The technical aspects of The Shaw’s Alice in Wonderland are outstanding. Compelling projections, magical costumes, dancing lobsters, a talking rabbit, an ever-smiling, bigger than life Cheshire cat, a beautiful river with a floating boat, and ever-growing/shrinking Alice, all combine to make this a must see production. (BTW—-reputation not withstanding, this is not a show for young children.)

Master Harold . . . And the Boys, Athol Fugard’s examination of apartheid in South Africa, through September 10.

Since this show is in previews, though I saw it, I am not allowed to review it. However, I don’t think the powers that be will be upset by my comment to a friend that I “found the production to be compelling, thought-provoking and of the highest quality. The cast was superb, the directing spot-on.”

I did not see Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street A Musical Thriller, Our Town, or Dance of Death

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Go to the Shaw Festival. Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are and see some great theater.
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