With previews lasting for weeks (the better to maintain excellence, my dear) resulting in some mid to late-summer openings, it’s easy to believe that the Shaw Festival season will go on into the fall forever, but all good things must end, and, except for JUST TO GET MARRIED (which continues through October 16) all the rest of the shows in Niagara on the Lake (see below or visit here) continue only through October 8 or 9. So, do the math.
It’s easier and more affordable than you might think.
How is it easier? Crossing the border into Canada should soon be as easy as it was back in pre-pandemic times. I personally found the ArriveCan app to be quite easy to fill out and use to cross the border into Canada this summer, but apparently, I’m in (or was in) a minority. And so, Canada will lift all of its COVID-19 travel restrictions on October 1. The country will no longer require travelers to show proof of vaccination, testing, or to submit health information via Canada’s ArriveCan app.
How is it more affordable? The Shawfest advises “American patrons: Due to a favorable exchange rate, you may save up around 20% in US funds when purchasing using your US credit card, based on the current exchange rate.”
So far this summer, I’ve only able to see four plays at The Shaw. I’ll mention those first (plus one reviewed by my colleague, Grant Golden), then give a quick blurb to those I had to pass on, and finally mention one more that I’m so looking forward to.
By the way, the website shawfest.com is incredibly content rich and you can click on and read the entire playbill for each and every show as well as see production photos. So enjoy that!
JUST TO GET MARRIED is on stage through October 16 (the only play offered in that final week). It’s a humorous 1910 play by feminist writer Cicely Hamilton, directed by Severn Thompson, at the charming Royal George Theatre at 85 Queen Street in the heart of Niagara on the Lake, surrounded by ice cream shops and other stroll-worthy venues. In the spirit of G.B. Shaw (an iconoclast who seemed to despise most institutions), Hamilton has the family of Georgiana Vicary quite eager to marry her off. At the age of 29, Georgiana is reluctant because she has no marketable skills and sees marriage as admitting defeat.
My take is that if you’d like to see a play by G.B. Shaw without pages and pages of diatribes, this is your ticket. Lots of “Shavian” sentiment but with more charm and less edge.
Runtime: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission (Coffee Crisp candy bars for sale in the lobby. Mmmmm.)
EVERYBODY, on the other hand, is only up through October 8 at the modern Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre and is directed by László Bérczes (who directed a very fine THE GLASS MENAGERIE a few years back and you can read my review here).
EVERYBODY is another play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins whose very clever retelling of an old melodrama became AN OCTOROON that was at Shawfest in 2017 (read my review here).
By the way, that play starred actor André Sills, who is starring this season at The Stratford Festival in two plays by Shakespeare – RICHARD III and ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL – and I can report that Mr. Sills still has that great stage presence. But back to the Shawfest….
EVERYBODY, at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, is a modern retelling of the medieval EVERYMAN morality play with what seems like a simple message: Death comes to us all. But don’t think for a minute that this is dreary, or morbid. However, the message is clear, as playbill commentator Jennifer Buckley writes: EVERYBODY places “moral pressure on individual audience members here and now. Do better, it urges us. Be kinder. Listen more and take less. Admit your mistakes and apologize for them. Grow up, for real.”
One thing that keeps this play fresh is that at every performance, the roles are handed out just before the curtain. The cast is, on purpose, quite diverse in terms of age, gender, and racial and ethnic identities. In other words, the cast mirrors “everybody.” The plot is simple. The central character is informed by Death that he or she can take a friend with him or her into death. It sure puts some pressure on friends who claim to be “ride or die” bosom buddies. When push comes to shove (or gravedigger’s shovel) and it’s time to shuffle off this mortal coil, “Everybody” is abandoned one by one. Well, almost, but that would be a spoiler to tell you.
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission
CHITRA, by the late 19th early 20th century Bengali poet, playwright, composer, philosopher, and social reformer Rabindranath Tagore, directed by Kimberley Rampersad is a short play offered as a “lunchtime” play. All performances at the Royal George Theatre begin at 11:30 am and can be paired nicely with a lunch followed by a 2:00 pm matinee.
Doesn’t that list including “playwright, philosopher, and social reformer” remind you of George Bernard Shaw? This play is particularly true to Shawfest’s mission by placing an empowered female squarely in a lead role (think of SAINT JOAN, or MAJOR BARBARA, or MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION). Chitra is a woman who is blindly attracted to Arjuna and he to her, but it’s not true love until they drop the masks and get real with each other. With lots of original music and dance, costumes, and special lighting, the play is rather dreamlike.
RUNTIME: 50 minutes
TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD is by the old man himself, G.B. Shaw, and is chock-a-block with his patented rants and soapbox speeches where he upends all sorts of assumptions and pokes at the social order. It’s very well directed and acted but is only up through October 8. You can read my review from August of this play at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre here.
TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD by Bernard Shaw at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre is a three-act play dealing with a host of (still contemporary) issues. But it’s only up through October 8. You can read my review from this August here.
RUNTIME: 3 hours with two (!) intermissions
GASLIGHT is at the Royal George Theatre and also only through October 8. In his review, Buffalo Rising colleague Grant Golden wrote “This is a new adaptation of ANGEL STREET, a 1938 hit thriller by Patrick Hamilton. It’s still a period drama, but Johnna Wright and (the Shaw’s own) Patty Jamieson have endeavored to bring the piece more up to date, especially as regards the more advanced and equitable position of women in society.” You can read Grant’s review here.
RUNTIME: Two hours with one intermission
THE SHAW FESTIVAL’S OTHER OFFERINGS THROUGH NEXT WEEKEND INCLUDE:
DAMN YANKEES, the musical, with words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop. Friends who are theater industry insiders tell me that they enjoyed this production immensely, the story of a rabid middle aged baseball fan who trades his soul to the devil so that his favorite team can win the pennant and finally beat those damn New York Yankees. It’s at the large Festival Theatre, where Shawfest typically mounts its musicals. Often we are offered two, but this summer, still getting around Covid, when understudies and swings are often being called upon to step in, the festival has wisely limited their exposure to just one musical. As I mentioned, I haven’t seen it, but word of mouth is very positive.
Also at the Festival Theatre you can see THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde but only through October 9. This is the classic and deservedly famous and beloved drawing room comedy of mistaken identities, a genre at which the Shaw Festival traditionally excels. If you’ve never seen this play, or have only seen an amateur performance, do yourself a favor and see what a world-class theater company can do.
And, also at the Festival Theatre you can see THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA by Bernard Shaw (as they call G.B. Shaw in Niagara on the Lake) but only through October 8. The festival promotes it as follows: “One of the most popular Shaw plays we have presented in our 60 years, this exploration of medical ethics has again found its moment. If one patient can only live at the cost of another’s life, how on earth do you choose? What is the value of a human life?”
And, finally, a play that I have been looking forward to for a while, GEM OF THE OCEAN by August Wilson, the first play in his legendary ten-play “American Century Cycle” on the African-American experience in the 20th century which is offered at The Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre only through October 9!
The GEM OF THE OCEAN publicity blurb reads as follows: How can we ever come to terms with the crimes of the past? Aunt Ester, the 285-year-old “washer of souls” at the center of this poetic masterpiece, has an answer. When a young man who is drowning in guilt comes to her door, she sends him on a quest to find the mythical City of Bones. His spiritual journey through history takes place against the backdrop of very real events in the 1904 Pittsburgh depicted in the play.
I noticed that seating is limited, so you might want to act sooner rather than later and catch GEM OF THE OCEAN or any of the other fine productions soon.