Saturday, July 17, 2010

Two more shows at the Shaw Festival...

Now that we're back into the routine again after a short vacation, it's time to start getting caught up on shows I have been attending over the summer months; this weekend we'll look at a couple of Shaw Festival offerings.

Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard plays at the Court House Theatre until October 2nd, and right off the top, let's say this one is an acquired taste for some theatregoers. That being said, if you have acquired the taste for Chekhov's rather sombre offerings, this is a very good production of The Cherry Orchard. Directed by Jason Byrne, the version used is by Tom Murphy, an Irishman with a clear love of Chekhov. This will not be the most exciting theatre you'll see this season, but it is a finely crafted tale, nicely presented on the Court House stage.

The Cherry Orchard premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre in January, 1904, on Chekhov's birthday, in fact. The same production transferred to New York in 1923 during a season of Russian plays. The only other Shaw Festival production was way back in 1980, directed by Patrick Mason, in an adaptation by Trevor Griffiths.

With limited space to work with, designer Peter Hartwell has come up with simple but effective sets and costumes that nicely depict the era and the rather austere livelihood led by the characters in the play.

The cast is very strong in this production, with Laurie Paton showing a quiet dignity and dominance in the role of Lyubov Andreyeyevna Ranyevskaya; Robin Evan Williams is equally effective as her daughter Anya. Two of the male leads in the cast are also particularly strong: Jim Mezon as Leonid Gayev, brother to Lyubov, and Benedict Campbell as a businessman named Yermolay Lopakhin. Others of note in the cast include Gordon Rand as a student, Neil Barclay as a landowner, and Al Kozlik in a small but important role as the manservant Fir.

As mentioned, this won't be a play for everyone, but if you like Chekhov, you'll probably enjoy this production of The Cherry Orchard. It runs at the Court House Theatre until October 2nd and rates three out of four stars.

The second show we'll look at this week is Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, last seen at the Shaw Festival in a memorable production at the Court House in both 1995 and 1996. This production at the Festival Theatre, directed by Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell, runs through to October 31st.

I still have vivid memories of the last production at Shaw, with a very strong cast featuring Norman Browning in the lead role of Sir Robert Chiltern. Browning's rather gruff nature seemed to mate well with the character, so the choice in this production of the always eloquent Patrick Galligan makes for a decidedly different take on the role. Neither performance would be considered better than the other; just very different takes on the role. Galligan is joined here by Catherine McGregor as his steadfastly supportive wife, Lady Gertrude Chiltern. Watching this production, I couldn't help but wonder if when planning for this production, Maxwell hadn't had the late Goldie Semple in mind for this role. McGregor does a fine job here, but I kept thinking of Goldie in the role while watching the production.

The rest of the cast is equally up to the task here, including Moya O'Connell as the conniving Mrs. Cheveley, who has some not-so-honourable designs on Sir Robert; Marla McLean as daughter Mabel; and Wendy Thatcher as Lady Markby. But two male roles really stand out here: Lorne Kennedy plays a very gruff Lord Caversham, who never seems able to come to terms with the seemingly free-spirited Viscount Goring, played with great style by Steven Sutcliffe. Goring is seem by many to be a self portrait by Wilde, and it is easy to imagine after watching Sutcliffe save Sir Robert's bacon, as it were, from Mrs. Cheveley. Their meeting in the second act is one of the highlights of the play.

An Ideal Husband, clearly a play looking at the issue of clemency, premiered at London's Haymarket Theatre in January, 1895, transferring to the Criterion Theatre in April of that year before being withdrawn the day after Wilde's trial for "gross indecency" began. One would have to think, with Viscount Goring winning the day for Sir Robert Chiltern, thus enabling him to accept a cabinet position in the government without the stench of scandal following him, was Wilde's way of reminding the public of the day they should not be so narrow-minded in their perception of him personally, or Goring in the play.

Other than an interesting updating of period costumes and very clean-lined sets, this is a very faithful presentation of Wilde's play, and I am sure it will be a popular item this season at Shaw. It rates a very strong three out of four stars, and continues at the Festival Theatre until October 31st.

So, lots of theatre to watch, and lots of great music, too. Keep in mind Music Niagara gets underway in Niagara-on-the-Lake this weekend, and this past weekend the Elora Festival kicked off in Elora. I will be up that way briefly this weekend, so I will have more to say about that next week.

Enjoy the weekend!

July 17th, 2010.


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