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MYTHOS: GODS, HEROES, MEN at The Shaw Festival with the incomparable Stephen Fry – a few shows remain if you act quickly

THE BASICS: MYTHOS, A TRILOGY: GODS. HEROES. MEN. consists of three separate one-man retellings of the Greek myths. Created by Stephen Fry in collaboration with Shawfest’s Tim Carroll, one need not see these “plays” in any particular order, or even all three, which is good, since after today, the remaining GODS presentations are sold out. However, there are three HEROES shows, July 6 and 10 at 2:00 p.m., and July 15 at 1; and two MEN shows, July 7 and 12, both at 8. All are at the Shaw’s largest theater, the Festival Theater (full service bar, salads and sandwiches, spacious patios), 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (1.800.511.SHAW). www.shawfest.com Runtime: 2-1/2 hours each show, including intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  With some lighter set-pieces, stunning wrap-around graphics, and a bit of stage magic to break things up, it’s pretty much Stephen Fry all by himself sitting center stage in an overstuffed wingback chair, playing the raconteur which he does so well. Remember that this is the voice that author J.K. Rowling had read ALL seven of the Harry Potter books on audio tape (about 128 hours of narration). He’s that good.

With GODS Fry tells us how the universe came out of chaos, the 12 “second order” gods (Oceanus, Kronos, etc.) and ultimately, the 12 gods that are familiar to us today: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, etc. Don’t fret that it’s sold out. Of the three plays, unless you’ve read the book, it covers material that is probably the most unfamiliar and did seem to many in the audience a bit tedious. And, there is that book which you can purchase in the lobby.

The second play, HEROES, and remember that one need not see these “plays” in any order, was to me the most entertaining. You do not need to have any prior knowledge of the tales of derring-do by Perseus, Theseus, and Heracles (whom we know as Hercules) as they clean up the planet. Really. Just sit back and let it happen. Not to trivialize, but there’s a reason why the current spate of Marvel Comics heroes continues to do so well at the movie box office. Everybody loves a hero.

There’s a reason why the current spate of Marvel Comics heroes continues to do so well at the movie box office. Everybody loves a hero.

The third play (order not important) is MEN, which tells of the founding of Ilios, or Troy, the abduction of Helen, and, with apologies from the stage since it would take a fourth play to cover it, Fry skips right over “The Trojan War” and goes directly to recounting several adventures of the wily Odysseus on his way back home.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This unique production, definitely a “one-off” for the Shaw, came about only due to the friendship, and the shared deep knowledge of the classics, between the witty wordsmith Stephen Fry and The Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director Tim Carroll. They structured the three ad-lib evenings, and then Carroll worked with Fry during the rehearsal process and the early weeks (in all 39 performances, 13 of each show). At a talkback, Carroll told us that he did give Fry “over 1,000 notes” (notes are what directors call tips, advice, or sometimes direct orders). But he spaced them out over time and was amazed that he only had to mention something once and the following performance Fry had incorporated that “note” or suggestion into the show, which is unscripted for the most part.

This unique production – definitely a ‘one-off’ for the Shaw.

Would MYTHOS ever happen again? Carroll hopes that some other major venue might pick it up, but it would depend on Fry’s availability. Would MYTHOS ever come back to The Shaw Festival? Carroll hoped that it might, but only after several years, giving audiences time to reflect back and realize in hindsight how special these evenings were.

In fact, while several of the final shows are sold-out, several are not, and I believe that it’s simply due to unfamiliarity. While historically audiences have flocked to hear Charles Dickens or Mark Twain or in our time Garrison Keillor speak extemporaneously for hours, modern audiences might not believe that they could sit through one 2-1/2 hour monologue, much less three. And, of course, even with 39 shows, it does take time for word of mouth to spread. Probably a year or two from now everyone will claim to have seen Stephen Fry, even if they didn’t.

By the way, although promoted as “based on the book by Stephen Fry” in fact only the GODS program uses material from the very entertaining and profusely illustrated 410-page book MYTHOS: The Greek Myths Retold (Penguin Random House 2017, $27.00 Canadian). So, even though the remaining GODS performances are sold out, you can still get much of the flavor (or flavour) by reading the book.

UP NEXT: The other shows at the large Festival Theatre include this year’s big musical, GRAND HOTEL; something for children of all ages in THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW (which is a prequel, if you will, to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe); and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.

And, with 2018 marking the centennial of the World War I armistice, The Shaw Festival is presenting G.B. Shaw’s O’FLAHERTY V.C. (which is a lunchtime one-act which shows exactly what the Irish think of the English); OH, WHAT A LOVELY WAR, and Shakespeare’s HENRY V, set during World War I.

Other shows include THE BARONESS AND THE PIG (sort of an all-female Pygmalion); a double bill of Shaw comedies – HOW HE LIED TO HER HUSBAND (Shaw had a rather cynical view of marriage) and THE MAN OF DESTINY (the Irish-born Shaw had a rather cynical view of the English) – and a very contemporary retelling of Chekhov in Sarena Parmar’s THE ORCHARD, with the author herself taking a major role, not something you don’t get to see every day.

Photographer: David Cooper property of The Shawfest

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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