The Playgoer: Shaw Festival journal

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Shaw Festival journal

Greetings from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a country idyll of wineries, antique shops, and Edwardian social drama. Okay, mostly Edwardian. Like "Mostly Mozart" and other imperfectly named summer festivals, the Shaw Fest cashes in on its eponymous hero (an appropriately knicker-ed statue hovers over the cafe I frequent here) while allowing itself a very broad mission--the plays of Shaw and his "contemporaries". When you define "contemporary" as they do here, those that existed at any point in SHaw's lifetime, you get quite a broad repertory since the man lived 100 years! (or almost: 1856-1950) So the festival, as of late, especially, has been able to have their "Widower's Houses" and eat their Noel Coward and Rogers & Hart as well. This year they've even pushed that end date to allow such modern Broadway "classics" as "Bus Stop" (1955) and "Gypsy" (1959).

I will get into the specific plays I have seen later (still on the run, alas, and dependent on faulty dial up. Also need to run to get on a 9am waitlist for the lunchtim Feydeau farce!) But the headline, on this my first Shaw Fest, is this: here is the best possible realization of that amorphous style known as "straightforward" or "let the text speak for itself." It's instinct for critics and thetare practitioners to say there's no such thing. Every staging is an "interpretation." Yes. But the "house style" here--admirably, I'll add-does achieve a seeming "neutrality" and respect for the word, which is gratifying, given the plays in their repertoire (key point, more on that anon).

Otherwise, all I'll add now is that the acting is consistently strong--impressive given a company of about 50, it seems, all doing doube & triple duty in a repertory of 8 plays. (All 8 are performed all summer long, mind you).

So check soon for mini-reviews of such titles as, yes, "Major Barbara", but also "Journey's End", "Autumn Garden" and even "Bus Stop".

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