Shaw Festival 2015

Tony Kushner Play triumphs at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 

Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — The Shaw Festival may well be giving us the most glorious experience of a Canadian theatrical summer.

It’s subjecting its audiences to nearly four hours of riveting theatre with The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures. And yes, the very title of Tony Kushner’s play is a mouthful in itself, with its references to both a celebrated piece of polemic by festival namesake Bernard Shaw and the beliefs of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.

However, as anyone who has already experienced marathon encounters with the much longer Angels in America knows, Tony Kushner has a remarkable capacity for keeping an audience involved, both emotionally and intellectually, in what’s happening on stage. (more…)

Shaw Festival scores with Quebec playwright Bouchard’s conflicted The Divine

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 

Photo: David Cooper

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONT. — There’s no denying that the Shaw Festival’s world premiere production of Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Divine: A Play For Sarah Bernhardt makes for exciting theatre.

It provides another stunning example of the strength of the festival’s celebrated acting company. And it offers a further vindication of artistic director Jackie Maxwell’s commitment to find new ways of bringing contemporary dramatists into the festival tent while also continuing to serve the festival’s central mandate of exploring the world of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.

But while it’s possible to urge anyone who cares about quality theatre to seek out this piece, one also feels obliged to add a caveat of sorts. There is more than one play here struggling to emerge. (more…)

Shaw Festival’s Light Up The Sky is a Mixed Bag

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 

Photo: David Cooper / Shaw Festival

Photo: David Cooper / Shaw Festival

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Moss Hart’s 1948 stage success, Light Up The Sky, needs tender, loving care in performance. The last thing it needs is an overkill approach.

It’s a backstage comedy of sorts — except that its turbulent events occur in Boston in the leading lady’s swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite on the opening day of the pre-Broadway try-out of a new play.

The performance turns into a disaster, and the early bonhomie we’ve witnessed turns into a cat fight in which tempers flare, egos further inflate and the blame game runs rampant.

The ingredients are familiar. So are the essentially stock characters that range from the terribly sincere novice playwright to the volatile diva to the show’s blustering financial backer. Moss Hart was writing about a world he knew intimately; he was also desperately trying to prove that he was capable of going it alone as a playwright instead of relying on the wit and guidance of George S. Kaufman, his writing partner in such evergreen triumphs as You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came To Dinner. (more…)

Director Peter Hinton’s Contemporary Take On Pygmalion is a Bundle of Delights

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Pygmalion   Photo. David Cooper. Jeff Meadows as Colonel Pickering, Harveen Sandhu as Eliza Doolittle and Patrick McManus as Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. Photo by David Cooper.

  • NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Linguistics genius Henry Higgins is lurking behind a pillar in London’s Covent Garden working madly away at his I-Pad.

Flower seller Eliza Doolittle is a feisty street urchin whose form-fitting blue jeans are so full of holes that you wonder whether they will last out the scene, not to mention the complete run of the Shaw Festival’s bold but exhilarating revival of Pygmalion.

This is definitely not Edwardian England we’re experiencing — not with a soundscape that includes Kanye West’s Runaway and Janet Jackson’s Got ‘Til It’s Gone, not with Henry Higgins’s female housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, sporting a red tee shirt telling us all to “keep calm.”

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The Twelve-Pound Look. A forgotten J.M. Barrie play delights at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Shaw_Look_WebGallery

Photo: David Cooper.

When it comes to live theatre, some of the nicest surprises come in the smallest of packages.

This year’s Shaw Festival lunchtime presentation is an absolute gem — a 105-year-old playlet from Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie who reveals himself here as a sympathetic advocate of women’s rights.

This funny and provocative one-actor, The Twelve-Pound Look by name, is not overtly political, but it was written at a time when Britain’s suffragettes were actively campaigning for a woman’s right to vote. And the suffrage movement has clear parallels to the play’s preoccupations — the right of a woman to think and behave independently and to be an equal partner in a relationship.

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Reviews from the Shaw Festival 2015: Peter and The Starcatcher is a Good Production But Is It Worth Doing?

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

PeterShaw_PAS_WebGallery

 

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Perhaps the oddest aspect of Peter And The Starcatcher — playwright Rick Elice’s subversively gleeful take on the Peter Pan legend — is that the title character often seems so inconsequential that he almost vanishes into the woodwork.

Such, at any rate, is the impression given by the Shaw Festival’s production of this 2012 Broadway success about a shipboard trunk containing stardust and an orphan youngster who is destined to become Peter Pan. Charlie Gallant delivers an amiable enough performance in this role (he’s known simply as “Boy” for a good part of the evening) and there’s no denying his dexterity with a ship’s rigging. But it can scarcely be said that he demands our unwavering attention.

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Reviews from the Shaw Festival 2015 : Actress Moya O’Connell Scores as Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea.

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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Moya O’Connell   Photo: Emily Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — the opening image is powerful — a huge boulder rising implacably from the stage of the Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre. And on top of it, naked and yielding to the dark mysticism of the moment, is the mermaid figure of a woman in anguish over both the lure of the sea and the danger it holds for her.

It is a moment of potent symbolism — augmented by a loud and angry soundscape. The Shaw Festival’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Lady From The Sea has seized our attention immediately — thanks to the combined efforts of director Meg Roe, designer Camillia Koo, lighting wizard Kevin Lamotte, sound expert Alessandro Juliani, and actress Moya O’Connell who will go on to deliver a haunting performance in the title role.

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Reviews the Shaw Festival : “Sweet Charity” Soars

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

 Shaw_Charity_PlayPage
Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Sweet Charity poses a challenge to any performer hazarding the title role.
Here’s the problem. This 1966 musical was conceived as a showcase vehicle for the legendary Gwen Verdon, a one-of-a-kind Broadway talent. Her director husband, another legend named Bob Fosse, saw her as ideal casting for the role of a forlorn New York dance hall girl who keeps being disappointed in love.

I saw Verdon as Charity, and her high-kicking performance was definitely one for the memory books. She had a dynamite presence — even though, in portraying a character who is more used than loved, she seemed to be fulfilling the inner needs of a director whose depiction of women on stage or screen often seemed problematic.
The show ultimately belonged to Verdon — not to playwright Neil Simon, whose amusing, observant book seemed tailor-made for its star, not to composer Cy Coleman who provided some of the best music of his Broadway career for Sweet Charity, not to veteran lyricist Dorothy Fields who, at the age of 61, had provided a succession of witty, verbally brilliant complements to Coleman’s score.

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Reviews from Shaw 2015: Shaw Festival Lays An Egg With “You Never Can Tell”

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

tellYNCT_WebGallery  
Photo: Emily  Cooper.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Bernard Shaw’s early romantic comedy, You Never Can Tell, may well be his most beguiling play. It is, of course, a characteristically Shavian take on one of his recurring preoccupations — the battle of the sexes — but this time, in a calculated commercial attempt to seduce late Victorian audiences into attending, GBS threw in the type of dramatic conventions prevalent in the West End theatre of the day.
Hence, this Socialist playwright gave us a fashionable seaside resort setting, displays of high fashion, expensive food and drink — and a philosophical waiter. Not the kind of culture Shaw tended to embrace — but if it earned him money, that was all to the good.

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