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GETTING MARRIED at the Shaw

THE BASICS:  A revival of Bernard Shaw’s chatty social comedy of 1908.  Tanja Jacobs directs a cast of twelve.  MARRIED plays in repertory at the Royal George Theatre in Niagara on the Lake through October 13th.  The play, with its single intermission, runs approximately 2 ½ hours.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  The action (what there is of it) takes place in a room near the entrance at the Palace of the Bishop of Chelsea.  The program suggests that the time has been updated, to 1950.  Edith, the youngest of the Bishop’s six daughters, is set to follow in her sisters’ footsteps, and be married that day to Mr. Cecil Sykes.  When an incendiary pamphlet detailing the many serious pitfalls of matrimony (especially in England with its then-notorious marriage and divorce laws) falls into the would-be bride and groom’s hands, things grind to a screeching halt.  The gathered family members and friends take part in a long, spirited conversation about marriage.  Bane or boon?  Should it be abolished?  Replaced?  What does it have to do with God?  With love?  With sex?   Will Edith and Cecil go ahead and tie the knot?

THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION:  The people running the Shaw Festival bring this one back about every ten years.   I remember chiefly being very impressed with Sharry Flett as the enigmatic Mayoress; that was twenty years ago, as it turns out!  The play itself did not impress me as much this time around.  The great long central conversation is pithy, as one expects from GBS, but it eventually peters out without taking us much of anywhere.  Some of the characters (like the Mayoress, and Lesbia Grantham) are of interest, but there are simply too many of them.  And all the while, other characters, who would certainly be expected under the circumstances (would not a SINGLE ONE of Edith’s five elder sisters or their spouses be interested enough to attend her wedding?) do not appear, and are never even discussed.  I’m afraid that GETTING MARRIED is not so much a good play as a good “bull session” of the type many of us enjoyed in college.  If stimulating talk is not your cup of tea, I would avoid this one like the plague.

If stimulating talk is not your cup of tea, I would avoid this one like the plague.

With the exception of Steven Sutcliffe, who is entirely too youthful in both look and demeanor for the role of Reginald, the Bishop’s brother (rather spoiling a central romantic three-way), the top-notch cast is pretty much up to the task.  I especially enjoyed Ben Sanders as St John Hotchkiss, a glib, egotistical scamp who’s ardor runs decidedly toward “safe”, married women.  Mr. Sanders is aces, right out of Oscar Wilde!  Graeme Somerville provides some much-needed warmth as the kindly but unconventional Bishop.  And a little shout-out to Andrew Laurie, who brings impeccable comic timing to the small role of Reverend Oliver Cromwell Soames, the Bishop’s no-nonsense, straight-arrow Chaplain.

With its rather large cast, GETTING MARRIED feels a little “shoe-horned” on the Royal George’s small proscenium stage.  It’s with shows like this that one really misses the decommissioned Courthouse Theatre.

We can credit the clean, classy, simple set, and the array of colorful, circa 1950 costumes (the character Leo’s brilliant yellow outfit and the Mayoress’ fiery red gown being special stand-outs) to designer Shannon Lea Doyle.

I don’t know who to thank for the program cover, which is just the ticket, and which earns this production an extra half-Buffalo.

IN SUM:  A typical, second tier Shaw talkfest, made all the more interesting because, 110 years later, the issues are amazingly current!  Your brain cells will get tickled, I assure you.  But those who hunger for a “well-made play” should not apply.

*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 Grant Golden

Grant Golden

GRANT GOLDEN wears a number of hats. He has been practicing radiology in Buffalo since 1981, for the past 15 years, with Seton Imaging. Dr Laszlo Tabar, internationally famous mammographer, has been his special friend and mentor.

Grant began The Old Chestnut Film Society, Buffalo’s only film society, in 1983. Now in its 35th consecutive season, the OCFS does monthly screenings of Hollywood classics in 16mm.

He has written the scores (and some of the books) for a number of locally produced musicals, including the old WONDERMAKERS shows, THE OTHER ISLAND, NOBODY’S INN (Alleyway Theatre), IZZY! (Musicalfare), and ME II (Western Door Playhouse). He reviewed local plays on the radio for 20 years--on WBEN and WBFO—before making the switch to BuffaloRising.

Grant and his lovely wife Deborah live in Central Park with their dog Ginger, and cats Ella and Felix. They have three adult children, and now, happily, two grandchildren!

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