The Shaw Festival begins with a slate of eleven shows
Shaw images design by keygordon.com; mythos photo by david gordon; orchard, Hound photos by Peter Andrew Lusztyk; Mythos photo by David Cooper
The Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake
The Shaw Festival begins this month with a slate of eleven shows and a promise that there truly is something for everyone. “I never do a theme for an entire season, because you sort of end up ramming square pegs into round holes,” says artistic director Tim “TC” Carroll. “But I do like to have a series of conversations between plays in a season, and there certainly is a minitheme for the centenary of the end of the Great War.”
That said, here’s the lineup, accompanied by Carroll’s thoughts:
The Magician’s Nephew: In this prequel to C. S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia series, Digory and new friend Polly stumble onto a magical portal into another world but accidentally unleash a dark force that could destroy them all. A world premiere adaptation by Michael O’Brien, directed by Tim Carroll.
TC: It’s an amazing world, Narnia, and this is a play about making a world, so we do let ourselves get crazy and imagine what the rules of this new world might be. There is no need to know anything about Narnia at all; this is the first of the books, so it sets up things that pay off in later years, but Lewis was clever enough to know that every book had to be its own self-standing thing. The beginning of Narnia is such an inspiring thing for people who have only ever heard of Narnia, and it piques their curiosity as to where the stories start. It’s just a fantastic adventure story that has a boy and girl sharing out the heroics.
Stage Kiss: Two bitter exes are cast in the same play as passionate lovers. Will they strangle each other or seduce each other? And how can we tell if it’s real or make-believe? By Sarah Ruhl, directed by Anita Rochon.
TC: This is just one of those plays that is so delightful and funny that, as soon as I read it, I saw it in the Royal George and imagined our audiences just following around laughing, and also swooning over it because it’s so romantic. Our audiences are also theatrically sophisticated, and they love plays about putting on a play, so it’ll be a real treat.
Grand Hotel: Check into the lavish Grand Hotel, where the lives of ten hotel guests collide over one unforgettable night. Love. Betrayal. Jealousy. Murder. And the glamour of Berlin in the Roaring Twenties. Soaring with songs and dance, it’s the mesmerizing musical about what happens when our deepest, most desperate passions are unleashed. Winner of five Tony Awards, book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, directed by Eda Holmes.
TC: We’ve been getting better and better at doing musicals, and this is a different piece from Me and My Girl, but it has that 1920s glamour that we do very well, passionate talk of love and murder, and comedy, something for everyone. And it does have some of our best loved performers, especially Michael Therriault [who starred in Me and My Girl] and Deborah Hay, who was Eliza Doolittle for us some years back.
Of Marriage and Men: A Comedy Double-Bill: In How He Lied to Her Husband, find out what a man will do for the lady he loves—and how unexpected the consequences can be. In The Man of Destiny, Napoleon must defend his wife’s honour … but can he? By Bernard Shaw, directed by Philip Akin.
TC: Of Marriage and Men does not tie into the centenary, but has its own conversation with pieces like Grand Hotel and Stage Kiss, which deal with different aspects of love and relationships. Bernard Shaw is at his most timeless when he’s talking about marriage and relationships. He was so far ahead of his time, and, indeed, still is in that he doesn’t buy into any of our clichés and prejudices about what a relationship between two people who are attracted to each other should be. He’s open to any answer to that question, which makes his writing about marriage and relationships shocking and provocative, and very funny.
It’s time to explore his one-act plays more. They are among his most brilliant achievements, and we, of course, do all the well-known ones, but one has to be careful to not let them come around on the treadmill. I’m intrigued to explore the one-acts, and hope we carry on doing that.
Mythos: A Trilogy—Gods. Heroes. Men. In this trilogy of plays, Stephen Fry takes to the stage with gripping tales of the Greek gods, heroes, and men who still echo today. Laugh-out-loud funny, mind-blowing and often personal, Mythos is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the icon himself. A world premiere, directed by Tim Carroll.
TC: This is a world premiere based on Stephen’s book of the same title, and he’d been thinking about turning it into a show, and said to me, “I thought if we turned it into a show, you might be the person to direct it.”
We needed to split this into three, because there are so many stories, and so many different aspects to talk about. You don’t just tell the stories, you also talk about what they mean, what they have meant to him, and where his life has mirrored them. We [went with] Gods. Heroes. Men to chart the progression in the Greek myths toward where we are now, where we have become independent of the gods, and are trying to source for ourselves.
We’re still concocting it, but we’ve already sold a lot, because Stephen has a lot of fans and know what a treat is in store for them. The message is, if you want to come, you’d better hurry. We fully expect by opening we’ll be sold out.”
O’Flaherty V. C. (Lunchtime one-act): Young Dennis O’Flaherty has been sent back from the front to recruit more Irishmen to the war. The only problem? He neglected to tell his Irish Nationalist mother he’s fighting for the English. By Bernard Shaw, directed by Kimberley Rampersad.
TC: This is the first of our great war shows, another one-act, and it’s a very witty and provocative play that got Shaw into a lot of trouble at the time. Bernard Shaw’s objection to the first World War was extremely unpopular at the time. In times of war, as he pointed out, there’s this tendency to say we must all pull together, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong; we must all believe in our government and any criticism is unpatriotic. Bernard Shaw, quite rightly, thought that’s bollocks; you don’t get to the truth that way, or a free society worth defending that way. The play is extremely iconoclastic and really tears down all the traditional notions of why people go to fight. It turns out that the play was one of the inspirations for Joan Littlewood when she came to do Oh! What a Lovely War [also playing this season].
The Baroness and the Pig: An idealistic nineteenth century baroness has found her next maid—a feral girl who can barely speak, let alone keep house. Now it’s just a matter of socializing her … right? Funny, relevant and heartbreaking, this Pygmalion-inspired tale of friendship and revenge cuts to the core of what it means to be “civilized”—and to be human. Mature content. By Michael Mackenzie, directed by Selma Dimitrijevic.
TC: This is the second in our series of Canadian classics. [Last season], 1837 was one of our best received shows in years. Baroness is exactly the kind of play I like, one that hasn’t been done much in English-speaking Canada, but much in French-speaking Canada and Europe. I first saw this play in Hungary in 2005, and thought it was wonderful and was intrigued to meet the Canadian playwright and read it in English. It’s a marvelous piece for two actresses and [will star] Julia Course and Yanna McIntosh, a Stratford legend who is making her Shaw debut. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great actors at Stratford, so there’s one or two in every season I will get to come over, so there will be a slightly more fluid journey between the two festivals. But there will always be a core ensemble here, and we’ll work hard to keep that feeling of a team.
The Orchard (After Chekhov): It’s Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard—transformed into the tale of a Punjabi-Sikh family fighting to hold onto their Okanagan Valley orchard. Based on Sarena Parmar’s own childhood in British Columbia, this fresh adaptation confronts life, loss, and the Canadian immigrant experience. A world premiere, directed by Ravi Jain.
TC: The Orchard is another Canadian play this season, in this case a Canadian version of the Russian classic transplanted to farmers in Western Canada. It’s a beautiful new script that has all the pain and fun and comedy and tragedy of The Cherry Orchard, but moves it to 1970s Canada, so it has a familiar unfamiliarity about it.
[Last season], the thing that really pleased me, especially with people coming from the states to see [the Canadian plays like] 1837 or 1979 is that they all felt—as I really was sure—that you didn’t need to be Canadian or know Canadian history to enjoy them, and the reason you can always trust me to come up with those plays is because I’m not Canadian, and I don’t know Canadian history, so you can be sure I’m reading them from the point of view of anyone in New York State and enjoying universal pleasure from them and not just because I recognize such-and-such character from history.
Oh! What a Lovely War: Follow a band of singing, dancing Canadian soldiers into the Great War and rediscover the spirit behind “lest we forget.” By Joan Littleton, Theatre Workshop and Charles Chilton, directed by Peter Hinton.
TC: Right in the middle of our conversation about the first World War is this piece that we’re reinventing for this production, because it was done over fifty years ago in London, and here we are with a much greater historical perspective on the first World War, and in Canada. We’re keeping the songs and dances, but the sketches in between are being redevised to reflect the story of people who are from here; we’re [using] the Canadian regiments that went from Fort Niagara. In fact, the Royal George [where this will play], was opened in 1917 as a vaudeville theater to entertain the troops at Fort Niagara.
Henry V: A troop of Canadian soldiers is hunkered down in a dugout during WWI with some copies of Shakespeare’s Henry V for company. As they enter the death-haunted, morally ambiguous world of the play, the play enters theirs. This imaginative spin on Shakespeare is a powerful exploration of what it means—and costs—to fight for king and country. By William Shakespeare, directed by Tim Carroll and Kevin Bennett.
TC: This is the third of our first World War plays, [because] I had the idea for Kevin Bennett and I to set it in the twenties in World War I. One of the things we found in our research was that during World War I, the soldiers of the British and Canadian forces did put on performances for each other, and one of them was, in fact, Henry V. The framing device is that it’s a group of soldiers preparing to put on Henry V, and you see what happens to them and the play as the evening goes on. We’re looking at setting it in a particular Canadian regiment from Niagara.
The Hound of the Baskervilles: Sir Baskerville has been scared to death—literally. Now deductive genius Sherlock Holmes is on the case to find the murderer … with twist after twist to keep you guessing. A Canadian premiere, by Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette, directed by Craig Hall.
TC: It’s the return of the murder mystery to Shaw. We’re excited about this one because [even though] we relaxed our strict rules about when our shows take place, we still do specialize in the late Victorian and Edwardian era, and it’s such a rich era for the whodunit and the birth of the detective story. We’ve got a sharp and witty adaptation, and we’re already selling quite well.
A Christmas Carol also returns, and Carroll reminds patrons to look out for Secret Theatre. “That’s always something we’re very excited about ourselves, and we always have a bunch of extracurricular activities,” he says. “All of our lunchtime shows will have a conversation after them. We’re really looking to give people a chance to hang around, and talk, and meet other people, and put our phones down for a minute and get our heads up from the screens.”
Check the Shaw website for schedules and ticketing performances. New this year are “relaxed” performances for anybody needing a less strict approach to sound, movement, light, and noise; ASL-interpreted performances are also available.
Buffalo Quickies, by various authors, at Alleyway Theatre
Synopsis: Six to eight short plays run the gamut from comedy to drama. They’re different every year, which is what makes Quickies fun! And, in recent years, director Joyce Stilson has supported local playwrights by including more and more of them in the show.
Buffalo Quickies is celebrating its twenty-seventh year, which makes it one of the first festivals of its kind in the country. (Now, ten-minute and short-play festivals are ubiquitous, with some playwrights—like Quickies regular Mark Harvey Levine—concentrating almost exclusively on the short form.) From the beginning, Joyce Stilson has directed every single one, but this year, she is sharing the reins.
The Quickies logo, two buffaloes wearing theater masks and engaged in what is presumably a “quickie,” is controversial: some love it, some hate it. But it has remained, and is indelibly linked with the show. There’s even a T-shirt.
In its early incarnations, Quickies had more of a festival format, with different programs every night. Now, one ensemble cast takes on multiple roles in the different plays, which has not only provided a fun challenge for actors, but also made for a more streamlined and manageable process.
Audiences love Quickies so much—each year, Stilson hears “this is the best one yet!”—that when budget cuts threatened to eliminate the tradition, many stepped up with financial donations that allowed the show to go on without interruption.
What they said: “For the most part, these are good plays, their successes and failures falling comfortably on a bell curve. The best written among them are the ones that open a window onto a scene in someone’s life, telling their story in real time and with an honest blend of drama and comedy—the way life really plays out. For me, this has always been the strength of the one-act format, to show us just what we can see, illuminating a bigger world in the microcosm.”– Ben Siegel, Buffalo News, 2016
Alleyway closes the annual Buffalo Quickies May 5 (alleyway.com, 852-2600).
Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Shea’s 710
Ordinarily, I probably wouldn’t suggest a show based on a story that has had countless iterations, but if you’re in the mood for some silly fun as the theater season winds down, Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville is probably going to deliver it. And, since it’s for one weekend only, you’ll have to act fast if you want to catch it.
Here are three reasons why you should: 1) Everyone loves a good mystery, but even if you know how this one ends, 2) Ken Ludwig knows how to deliver comedy; he wrote Lend Me A Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo, both of which have been seen in Western New York recently, but most of all, 3) Five actors will be putting on accents and disguises to play more than forty characters. I know, I know, everybody does shows like this now, but they do not do it with a cast this stacked with some of Buffalo’s best comedic actors: Todd Benzin, Chris J. Handley, Maria Droz, Patrick Cameron, and Marc Sacco. Who cares what the story is about? Let them entertain you.
MusicalFare produces Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Shea’s 710, May 10-13 only (sheas.org, 847-0850).
This month at a glance:
Stellaluna opens at Theatre of Youth on May 5 (theatreofyouth.org, 884-4400).
MusicalFare produces Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Shea’s 710 May 10-13 only (sheas.org, 847-0850).
Rounding Third hits Lancaster Opera House May 11 (lancopera.org, 683-1776).
Also playing (in order of closing):
Alleyway closes the annual Buffalo Quickies May 5 (alleyway.com, 852-2600).
O’Connell and Company runs I Do, I Do until May 6 (oconnellandcompany.com, 848-0800).
The Phantom of the Opera runs through May 6 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 847-0850).
The Full Monty wraps at Subversive Theatre Collective May 12 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).
The Awful Truth closes May 13 at Irish Classical Theatre Company (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).
Jewish Repertory Theatre wraps up Sight Unseen May 13 (jewishrepertorytheatre.com, 888-718-4253).
Kavinoky shutters The Foreigner beginning May 20 (kavinokytheatre.com, 829-7668).
The Christians finishes at Road Less Traveled Productions May 20 (roadlesstraveledproductions.org, 629-3069).
MusicalFare presents Once until May 27 (sheas.org, 847-0850).