Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Shaw Offerings Worth Seeing this Season

With August quickly moving along, we had better get back to the Shaw Festival and some of the great theatre they are offering this season. As always, my ratings are up to four stars...

The Stepmother (Court House Theatre to October 4th) ****
This play by Githa Sowerby is a real gem; amazingly it has only been produced once before this Shaw production this season. The first was at the New Theatre in London in 1924 by a private theatre club. What have we missed all these years! The play is set in middle-class London, with the title character, Lois Relph, an in-demand dress designer, running her own very successful business. Her husband, Eustance Gaydon, is a snake: he has wasted away the family fortune and, while their daughter is planning to be married, he manages to lose his wife's business fortune as well. So while Lois is a successful, independent businesswoman, unusual for the time, her husband is a complete loser; what we see here is the greed of one man ruining a respectable family unit. Blair Williams plays Eustace to perfection; Claire Jullien puts in a great performance as a very dignified Louis. The daughter, Monica, is played by Marla McLean and she does a very nice job. The other significant character in this play, one who has had a past with Lois, is Peter Holland, played by Patrick Galligan. Galligan is chivalrous as always, attempting to rescue another damsel in distress. Although The Stepmother is from the 1920's, it does not appear the least bit dated, and is another rare gem at this year's Shaw Festival.

An Inspector Calls (Festival Theatre to November 2nd) ***
J.B. Priestly, a contemporary of Shaw, has had a number of plays presented at the Shaw Festival over the years, and this large-scale production on the Festival stage continues the tradition. It is directed by Jim Mezon, who stepped in as director when Neil Munro was unable to continue. Mezon marshalls a strong cast in an interesting play with very understated performances. What is really fascinating is the moving stage design; it moves so imperceptively you almost don't even notice it. An Inspector Calls is about the death of a young woman, but not in the tradition of the classic whodunnit. Here, the Birling family, led by Peter Hutt as Arthur Birling, are questioned by a supposed police inspector about the death; if the saying "I am my brother's keeper" is true, this family isn't aware of it. Each denies any responsibility for the death, even though it is clear they could have helped the situation. Towards the end of the second act, the interesting turn of events will certainly leave you scratching your head: was it all real or imagined? In addition to Hutt, Mary Haney has a good turn as the wife, Sybil Birling, and Moya O'Conneli and Andrew Bunker as their two children. The real pleasure is watching Benedict Campbell as the cool and determined Inspector Goole. Quite a thought-provoking play by Priestly dating from 1944-45; definitely worth a look at Shaw this season.

A Little Night Music (Court House Theatre to October 4th) ****
As musicals go, A Little Night Music is very unmusical, if you base it on number of recognizeable songs in the score - there is only one, of course: Send In The Clowns, and that doesn't appear until the second act. But don't let that fact deter you from catching a thoroughly enjoyable musical experience in a very intimate setting. Sondheim's very dense musical writing is very clever and witty, and the cast is up to the task. They are aided in this small space by a chamber-sized orchestra that suits the venue perfectly. The cast includes Goldie Semple as the big star Desireee Armfeldt and George Masswohl as her onetime lover Fredrik Egerman. They come together again to rekindle the flames of passion in spite of the fact ol' Fredrik has a young girl as his bride now. She, however, discovers her stepson is totally infatuated with her! Ah yes, sex and morals, was it ever thus? In spite of the fact this musical is 35 years old now, it does not appear dated in the least. Good performances directed by Morris Panych make for a richly rewarding evening. Who would have thought: two lesser-performed musicals at Shaw this year and both are winners!

August 16th, 2008.

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