Weighing In on the Shaw Festival’s 2009 Season

Even under Jackie Maxwell, Shaw Festivity months have been fairly predictable — which, of course, suits me just fine. For instance, since the Devil’s Disciple we hadn’t been seen at Niagara-on-the-Lake since 1996, it was delinquent for one of the two video poker machines for Shaw slot online plays, and a good bet to pop up just last year.Home Banner Casino

And since the Shaw Festivity did an O’Neill play four years ago, which we thought and anticipated was the beginning of an O’Neill cycle, an O’Neill play on the 2009 playbill will be a good guess (in fact, we’ll get a Silent celestial body for the Misbegotten).

We also would have laid money on another Noel Coward play just last year, because Coward is always in turn at the Shaw Festivity. Maybe The Vortex!? Or another pass at Cavalcade?

Well, the schedule’s out now, but there won’t be a major Coward play. Instead, there will be ten minor Coward works at the Shaw Festivity this year, each a one-act play. They’ll be presented as part of four different shows. This year, Bernard Shaw won’t be the most-seen playwright at the Shaw Festivity.

We’ll see most of the 2009 playbill, as usual. Which shows do we look forward to the most?

1. A Silent celestial body for the Misbegotten (Eugene O’Neill) We’ve never seen this play, but we loved what the Shaw repertory company did with O’Neill’s funny My oh my, Forests two years ago, and we’ve wanted to see what it would do with an O’Neill play with a little more stress.

And we admire the work of director Ernest Ziegler, who was in top form with Bernard Shaw’s Engaged and getting married in the season just ending (see the Emsworth review); he also directed My oh my, Forests. It’ll be at the Courthouse Theatre. The formidable Jim Mezon will play Josie Hogan’s father.

2. Play, Orchestra, Play (Noel Coward) This show will be made up of three of Noel Coward’s one-act plays: Red Peppers, Fumed Cherry, and Shadow Play. Two of these have songs weaved into the plot, one (Fumed Oakis straight funny. There’s no big musical at the Shaw Festivity this year; these take its place. It’ll be at the Regal George Theatre, directed by Christopher Newton.

We know quite a few Coward songs but not, in general, which of his shows they’re from. But burrowing into our library, we find that Coward and his stage partner Gertrude Lawrence played George and Lily Pepper, a music corridor song-and-dance team, in Red Peppers in 1936 (so this show’s going to be lively). We also find that one of the two songs in Red Peppers is “Has Anybody Seen Our Ship? inch while the two Coward songs in Shadow Play are “You Were There” and “Then”.

3. The Entertainer (John Osborne) The anti-establishment Englishman John Osborne is legendary; he’s the original angry child. But we’ve never seen his work. Existentialism and vaudeville will be a curious combination.

We’re also very curious to see the Shaw Festival’s new small performing space, which is apparently the testing studio room at the Festivity Theater. And we look forward to Benedict Campbell, a fantastic song-and-dance man in Mack and Mabel a couple of years ago. This play will run for less than two months, from Come early july 31 through September 20. We’ll get our tickets early.

4. Brief Encounters (Noel Coward) Three more one-act plays by Noel Coward in this show: Still Life, We Were Dancing, and Hands Across the Sea. It’s in the Shaw Festival’s largest venue, the Festivity Theatre. Deborah Existen and Tanker Galligan, who have been superb in 08 in After the Dance, are in the cast.

We know one of these plays: Still Life, also known as Brief Encounter. It’s a painfully accurate draw of an illicit relationship. We can say for sure and love Coward’s highly-polished short stories; the stories and the one-act plays are reported to be first cousins. We think Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell is the Shaw’s best director. All in all, our expectations for this show are high.

5. Saturday in the Park with George (James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim) Somehow we’ve never seen this musical, but we surely know the painting that it orbits around, and so do you. It’s Georges Seurat’s “A Saturday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. inch Like Ferris Bueller and his friends, we’ve shown admiration for it at the Art Institute of Chi town. Stephen Sondheim’s musical is about Seurat and the creation of his painting.

We don’t know the songs in the show either, only that they’re reported to be written in a style similar to the pontillism (paintstrokes consisting of many small dots) which is Seurat was known. Steven Sutcliffe (Seurat) and Julie Martelli (his lover “Dot”) will have the lead roles. With Saturday in the Park with George, we get to indulge our interests in art, music and drama at the same time.

6. The Devil’s Disciple (George Bernard Shaw) Honestly, the plays by Shaw are what we usually look forward to most. The “major” Shaw play in the playbill would usually be at the top of our list. But we didn’t take much to the Devil’s Disciple when we saw it in 1996, we haven’t enjoyed reading it subsequently, and we can’t get over feeling frustrated with the old lefty for feeling free to moralize about the American war for independence.

On the other hand, we’re better acquainted with Bernard Shaw than we were twelve years ago, so maybe our encounter with the play changes this time around. And Evan Buliung will play Wang Dudgeon. We’re big fans, and even though we liked Buliung a lot in the Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet in Stratford in 08, we think he sits at the Shaw Festivity.

7. Born Yesterday (Garson Kanin) By coincidence, Emsworth, who likes old films, happened to see the 1950 movie, starring Judy Holliday, and based on the original stage production, until recently on Turner Classic Movies. Now how do we feel about seeing a new stage version with Deborah Existen as Billie Start? Fine, we guess.

8. Ways of the heart (Noel Coward) The three full-length Coward shows at the Shaw just last year were collectively called For dinner at 8: 30, and Coward meant them to be presented as a group, though not necessarily in a particular order.

This is the third of the For dinner at 8: 30 shows: The Shocked Heart, Family Album, and Ways and means, directed by Blair Williams, in the Shaw Festival’s smallest venue, the Courthouse Theatre, which could well be a good option in Niagara-on-the-Lake to see short-form Noel Coward. We know Ways and means, a totally pitiless symbol of a young couple who cloth or sponge off their high-society friends. The cast includes Claire Juillien, David Jansen, and one of my favorites at the Shaw, Laurie Paton.

The Shaw Festivity does all ten of the Shaw one-acts in the same day, starting at 9: 30 a. michael., on three separate days (August 8, May 29, and September 19, 2009). Too intense for us.

9. Star Chamber (Noel Coward) This Coward one-act play will be the Shaw’s lunchtime offering at the Courthouse Theatre. The Shaw’s promotional materials say that it’s “rarely produced, inch but that’s an understatement. Coward apparently was not pleased with it; in 1936 he pulled it after only one performance and didn’t publish it with other plays. We doubt that Coward was a good judge of their own work.

10. Albertine in Five Times (Michel Tremblay) In our parochial ignorance, all we know about Michel Tremblay, the French-Canadian playwright, is that she wrote Hosanna, the elaborate play with how the late Richard Monette (long-time artistic director at the Stratford Festival) made his name as an professional in 1974.

Albertine in Five Times appears to have an all-women cast, as did Gabriel Garcia Lorca’s The house of Bernarda Alba, one of Jackie Maxwell’s adventurous play choices early in her stint at the Shaw. The cast should include Betty Haney and Patricia Hamilton.

What we want to know is, when are we going to have another Lorca play?

11. In Good King Charles’s Golden Days (George Bernard Shaw) Even with the talented Peter Hutt (alas, it looks like he’s empty to the Stratford Festivity for the 2009 season) as King Charles, we remember the Shaw’s 1997 version of this Bernard Shaw as an extremely talky, sleep-inducing play, even by Shaw’s standards of talkiness. It’s pretty far down on our list of favorite Shaw plays. But the 2009 cast for this show is very strong, with Benedict Campbell, Laurie Paton, Lisa Codrington, Betty Haney, and Graeme Somerville.

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