THE BASICS: Shaw’s famous historical drama, drawn from the pages of American history, plays in repetory at the Festival Theatre at Niagara on the Lake through October 11th. The production, which was directed by Tadeusz Bradecki, runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes, with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place near the end of the American Revolution, in the fictitious town of Westerbridge, New Hampshire. While the progressively desperate Redcoats march from town to town, hanging perceived traitors, Dick Dudgeon, merry reprobate; and Reverend Anderson, serious minded shepherd of souls; trade places for a bit, and Judith, the Reverend’s pretty young wife, learns a startling lesson or two in character. Enlightened General John Burgoyne, on the fringe of it all, lets the audience in on how the Brits managed to fumble away the Colonies.
THE CAST: Evan Buliung makes a delightful, charismatic Dick Dudgeon–an ebullient, kind-hearted Modern spirit in an antique, decidedly uncharitable Christian world. Buliung’s dash and polish are the bedrock of this production. Peter Krantz is certainly acceptable as Dudgeon’s opposite number, the good Reverend Anderson, but he never really engages us fully, even at the end, when he has his best chance. Fiona Byrne is a pleasing Judith Anderson, the good woman who’s snug little world of prejudice comes tumbling down very suddenly. Veteran Jim Mezon gives “Gentlemanly Johnny” Burgoyne a fine, imperious quality, and Jonathan Widdifield gets quite a few laughs as Dick’s hayseed brother, Christy. Donna Belleville, as nasty, puritanical Ma Dudgeon, Lorne Kennedy, as the plucky Dudgeon family lawyer, and Peter Millard as the doltish career soldier, Major Swindon, are all solid in support.
PRODUCTION VALUES: Considering that this is major Shaw, and that it is being staged at the flagship Festival Theatre, the production is pretty bare-bones. Not bad mind you, but none of the theatrical razzle-dazzle that you sometimes get at the Shaw is on display here. There are a few inventive touches in the costumes by Peter Hartwell, and there is also a large working, guillotine for the climax.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Shaw is in rare form here, twisting the elements of melodrama to his fancy. If the ending seems hurried, less than fully worked out, it is not a major quibble. You’ll laugh at the many many well-aimed barbs, and you’ll go out thinking. A classic Shaw experience!
Image: David Cooper Photography.
RATING: FOUR BUFFALOS.