Sunday, August 02, 2009

Shaw Festival 2009/review #2

SHAW FESTIVAL (second of a series of two)

In my previous article reviewing The Shaw Festival, located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, I discussed Eugene O’Neil’s ‘STAR CHAMBER’ and ‘BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, as well as giving some hints of other-than-theatre events in the most beautiful little city in Canada. If you are interested in that review go on-line to

One of the usual highlights of going to The Festival is to see plays by George Bernard Shaw, himself. Of the two Shavian works I saw this trip, one was outstanding, the other boring and poorly directed.

‘THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE’, which gets a fine production, was Shaw's eighth play and the only one set in America. It, as is Shaw’s writing tradition, mocks religion, politicians, superstition and holier-than-thou members of society.

Set in a New England village during the Revolutionary War, Richard Dudgeon, a self-proclaimed devil’s disciple, finds himself mistaken for the local reverend. He is arrested by the British army as a rebel and in a twist of Shavian tradition, Dudgeon sacrifices himself in a Christ-like gesture. Evan Buliung develops a well-textured persona as Richard Duygeon. The play is purposefully directed by Tadeusz Bradecki and is one of the season’s highlights.

On the other hand, ‘IN GOOD KING CHARLES’S GOLDEN DAYS,’ is an overlong, boring, talky show which gets a weak production. Accents come and go, there is some shallow acting (especially by Lisa Codrington as the Duchess of Portsmouth and Ken James Stewart as Godfrey Kneller). Ric Reid (George Fox) screams his way through his role. This poor acting is shocking for a Festival production. The play is ill directed by Eda Holmes. At the end of the first act, the afternoon I saw the show, many in the audience left. At the end of the second act they fled for the exits, leaving a very small house to see the rest of the production.

But, then there was ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.’ The Sondheim piece is not a tune-filled escapist musical. The script was inspired by the painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by pointillist, Georges Seurat. The show, which met with mixed reviews when it opened on Broadway, revolves around a fictionalized Seurat. In the first act we see the artist immersed in single-minded concentration while painting his masterpiece. In the second act we meet his grandson, also a single-minded artist. Other than “Putting It Together, the title song is the only tune that audiences might have heard, as the music and lyrics are so integrated into the story line that the songs seem like dialogue.

The show is well directed by Alisa Palmer. Steven Sutcliffe (George) is capable of portraying both Seurat and his grandson with good voice and character development.

This may not be a musical for everyone, but for those who like Sondheim and meaningful musicals, it is well worth seeing.

‘PLAY ORCHESTRA, PLAY’, part of Coward’s ‘TONIGHT AT 8:30” series, consists of three one-act plays, ‘RED PEPPERS, a British Vaudeville House comedy with music, ‘FUMED OAK’, and, ‘SHADOW PLAY,’ a farce with music. Christopher Newton’s direction was weak. All three shows dragged.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Of the shows I saw at The Shaw Festival this year I would strongly recommend ‘THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE,’ ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE,’ ‘STAR CHAMBER,’ and ‘BRIEF ENCOUNTERS.’ I did not see ‘BORN YESTERDAY,’ but, people whose judgement I trust indicate it is delightful.