Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TRIFLES, two short plays with connected themes at The Shaw

Besides their full-length productions, The Shaw Festival offers a lunchtime feature.  It often is an hour play, offered at 11:30 AM.  This season the selection is two one-acts by different authors, who have a professional connection and feature a connected theme.  The program contains TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell and Eugene O’Neill’s A WIFE FOR A LIFE.


Susan Glaspell, who lived from the late nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth, is noted for her semi-autographical stories and plays which dealt with such issues as gender and ethics, which is represented by characters with principled stands.  She was awarded the Pulitzer-prize and, with her husband, George Cook, founded the Provincetown Players, one of the first American theatres dedicated to modern plays.  Ironic for the coupling of the two Shaw presentations, she is noted for having discovered and nurtured Eugene O’Neil.  The duo are recognized as founders of the American realistic theatre movement.

TRIFLES, an example of early feminist drama, is loosely based on the murder of John Hossack, the subject of a series of articles published by Glaspell, while working for the Des Moines Daily News.  Hossack’s wife was accused of killing her husband, who claimed that an intruder had killed him.  She was convicted, but the sentence was later overturned on appeal.

In TRIFLES we find Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, friends of the reclusive woman, empathizing with her and suspecting that her lack of socializing was caused by an abusive husband.  While searching the kitchen they find a strangled canary, the most prized possession of the woman, hidden in a sewing kit.  The canary was killed in the same way as the husband. 

The male investigators, displaying their chauvinistic attitudes, overlook all of the kitchen area.  As the sheriff says, “Nothing here but kitchen things,” thus characterizing women and their environment as irrelevant and overlooking an important clue.

Glaspell uses the caged bird and its death as a symbol for her view of male dominance and the subordination of women in society.

Shaw’s production, under the direction of Meg Roe is well done.  The backwoods setting and language are nicely etched.  Jeff Irving (County Attorney), Kaylee Harwood (Mrs. Peters), Graeme Somerville (Sheriff Peters), Benedict Campell (Lewis Hale) and Julain Molnar (Mrs. Hale) are all effective in developing clear characters.


Eugene O’Neill, one of the most important of realistic modern American writers, led a life of depression and alcoholism.  The Irish American playwright was a Nobel Laureate in Literature who wrote of characters on the fringes of society, much like himself.  These people often slide into disillusionment and despair.  Most of his works were dramas.  These included ANNA CHRISTIE, DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA, and THE ICEMAN COMMETH.  He won numerous Pulitzer Prizes.

A WIFE FOR A LIFE was one of O’Neill’s earliest works, which the writer often referred to as a vaudeville skit and once said that it was the worst play he had ever written.  Ironically, it set the tone for many of the writer’s later works, which usually centered on male characters. 

The script is also unusual as it falls in the theatrical genre of “frontier play,” a mode which O’Neill never used again.

The play concerns a young prospector who is in love with a young woman who turns out to be the wife of his older gold mining partner.  The older man is unaware of it, but he soon acknowledges the relationship, but does not let on.  At the end, the young man leaves to pursue his love, leaving the partner behind.

The script ends with: “THE OLDER MAN(sits down by the camp fire and buries face in his hands. Finally he rouses himself with an effort, stirs the camp fire and smiling with a whimsical sadness and  softly quotes:) Greater love hath no man than this: that he giveth his wife for his friend.” 

Though not necessarily biographical, a few months before he wrote A WIFE FOR A LIFE, O’Neill was in a similar situation when he went on a mining expedition and fell in love with the young wife of the engineer of the group.  It appears, however, he never acted on his feelings.

Shaw’s production is well conceived and nicely acted by Benedict Campbell (Older Man) and Jeff Irving (Jack, the younger man).  The simple set works well.

Both plays concern marriage and turn on the actions of an absent wife, a wife for life. As the director’s notes in the program states, “both plays speak of longing, absence, isolation and searching.” They both derive from the writers personal experiences.  They differ however in the way in which the husband treats his spouse.

Capsule judgement: --TRIFLES is an interesting quick venture in the theatre which presents two pillars of theatrical writing in early works.  It’s worth seeing this production  to experience how Susan Glaspell and Eugene O’Neil give glimpses of their talents in these early endeavors.

TRIFLES runs through October 12 in the Court House Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

PEACE IN OUR TIMES is a satirical romp at The Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and satirist, who is the father figure of The Shaw Festival, once wrote, “They undertake to make a new world after every war with hardly brains enough to manage a fried fish stall.” John Murrell who adapted Shaw’s GENEVA into PEACE IN OUR TIME: A COMEDY, took the original author’s ideas and turned them not into a farcical look at how effective talking and listening may be humanity’s only chance for survival.

Note that this PEACE IN OUR TIME is not the 1946 play by Noel Coward which focuses on a small group of Londoners in pub and imagines what would have happened if Britain had fallen to the Germans early during the Second World War. 

Through almost a vaudevillian approach, Murrell, a Texan who moved to Canada and became one of the country’s leading playwrights, develops a course of high jinks from an appeal to a nonfunctioning United Nation’s agency, to a trial in which Mussolini, Hitler and Franco are interrogated. 

The title of the play comes from a phrase echoed by Benjamin Disraeli, who, in 1878, following the Congress of Berlin, stated, “I have returned from Germany with peace in our time.”  He was wrong.  And, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, following participation in the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938, made a similar statement, he also was wrong.  The next day Germany occupied the Sudetenland and started what would become World War II.

As we watch in often hysterical comic horror, we hear satirical comments about the League of Nations, Hitler, Canada, Switzerland, music, politics, religion, closed-minded people, the beliefs of Americans, President Wilson, Britain, legal systems, the role of power, English public schools, journalists, nationalism, the privacy snooping in the US, super-nationalism, patriotism, and glory.  The whole affair ends with the conclusions that “humanity is doomed” and “the experiment called humanity is a failure.”

Though a little long, the play is both humorous and intriguing. 

The Shaw production, under the guidance of director Blair Williams, generally works well.  The set design, costumes and lighting, all aid in creating the right, ridiculous moods.  The action is quickly paced and the laughs well cued.

Neil Barclay is hysterical as Mussolini. Lorne Kennedy, though hard to understand due to a very heavy accent, captures Franco quite well. Ric Reid, as Hitler, fails to create a strong enough character, often looking uncomfortable playing one of the most hated men in history.

Diana Donnelly is ditzy-right as Belle, the air-headed Ohioan, who is nearly responsible for world destruction.  Charlie Gallant nicely develops the role of Joseph Rubinstein, a put-upon Jewish German.  The rest of the cast effectively help carry out the assault.

Capsule judgement: PEACE IN OUR TIME is a farcical romp, pitting the Three Stooges  against Shavian satire. Though the second act gets a little tedious, the overall effect is a learning experience about the foibles of politics and the stupidity of humans for allowing governmental systems to operate with little regard for humanity.

PEACE IN OUR TIME runs through October 12 in the Court House Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

OUR BETTERS is a delightful social commentary at The Shaw

A reviewer once said of OUR BETTERS, a social comedy by W. Somerset Maugham, “OUR BETTERS is probably not one of Maugham’s best plays, but that still says quite a lot.  Maugham on his worst day was bound to be better than the average writer on his good one.”

The play, which is a premiere at Shaw, is being bannered as “perfect for lovers of DOWNTON ABBEY.”  Be aware that isn’t quite as advertised, though both do focus on English lords in financial trouble, who marry rich American women for their fortunes.  While DOWNTON ABBEY takes peeks into the lives of servants and expands into various settings, OUR BETTERS stays in the drawing rooms and mainly places the spotlight on American women.

Maugham, who is credited as being the most profitable of the writers of his time, is the author of such classics as OF HUMAN BONDAGE, THE MOON AND SIX PENCE,  SADIE THOMPSON, and THE RAZOR’S EDGE, his last novel.
OUR BETTERS was first presented in 1917 and mirrored the ideas of the time, including Maugham’s slightly hidden belief that Americans should stay out of Britain and mind their own business.

The play centers on the early 20th century practice of wealthy American women buying their way into desirous British society by marrying aristocratic gentleman who had lost their fortunes, but retained their titles.  The women gained pre-identifiers such as “Lady” and “Princess” in exchange for their money, assumed British accents, and became the envy of the “folks” back home. Most of these women married for convenience rather than love.  Some of the women took lovers on the side, as did their husbands. 

Records indicate that over 100 American heiresses found European aristocratic husbands during that era.  Included in this group was Jennie Jerome, the daughter of a wealthy New York stockbroker, who married Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of the Duke of Marlborough.  They produced a son named Winston.  Yes, that Winston Churchill.

The play’s title comes from the awareness that though the British upper class may have superior manners, they hardly are “better” than Americans in the matter of morals.  In fact the director in her program notes, indicates that the Lords and Ladies in this play, prove themselves to be nothing more than “hustlers.”

It’s the start of the London season when the play opens at the Mayfair home of Lady Grayston (Pearl), and centers on The Duchess of Surennes (Minnie) and The Princess della Cercola (Flora), and their attempts to get Pearl’s sister, the 22-year old Bessie, to hook one of the Brits, preferably the pleasant enough Lord Bleane.  Bessie’s march to the aisle is thwarted by her life-long friend, American Fleming Harvey, who is in love with Bessie and doesn’t want her selling out to the man with the highest title.  Through a series of delightful scenes, happiness is achieved, by at least Bessie and Fleming.

Director Morris Panych has a nice touch with the farcical elements of the script.  He has a strong cast who play it straight, thus achieving the correct balance that makes the humorous elements work.   

Julia Course creates a sensible Bessie, who finally realizes that the social climbing of her sister and the other Americans is not for her.  Wade Bogert-O’Brien is on target as the love struck American realist. 

Neil Barclay is delightful as the gossiping Thornton Clay.  Laurie Paton overplays the affected drama queen, Minnie, to perfection, milking the lines for all the laughs she can get.  Catherine McGregor as Flora and Claire Jullien as Pearl both etch clear characterizations.

Ben Sanders as Lord Bleane creates a man who, in spite of his desire to trade his title for money, is really a nice chap. 

Ken MacDonald’s set designs are visually breathtaking and era correct.   The third act Victorian stained glass infused set brought extended applause from the audience when it was revealed.  Charlotte Dean must have blown the Shaw budget with all of the gorgeous period costumes.  The sets are bathed with sumptuous lighting by Alan Brodie.

Capsule judgement: OUR BETTERS is a social commentary that will delight those who like to delve into British social classes.  In this case they also get to see snapshots of Americans trying to be Brits, upper class ones at that.

OUR BETTERS runs through October 27 in the Royal George Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA charms at The Shaw

Adam Guettel, coauthor of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, comes to writing musicals from a strong hereditary background.  His grandfather is Richard Rogers, one of the “fathers” of the American musical.  Yes, the co-writer of OKLAHOMA, CAROUSEL, and THE KING AND I.  His mother is Mary Rogers, author of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, WORKING, THE MAD SHOW and FROM A TO Z.

Guettel relates the story as that of “a mentally challenged girl [Clara] whose mother [Margaret] takes her to Florence on a vacation and, when the daughter falls in love with a handsome young Italian [Fabrizio] , decides to flout convention by letting her marry.”  He explains, “The secret of the story is the balance between the daughter’s innocent yearnings and the mother’s history of failed emotions.  If you haven’t gotten what you’ve wanted out of life and you figure your only chance of healing from that is to let your daughter have a chance, then why not let it happen.”  He also indicates, “The best part of love is that it is the opposite of innocence.”

The score has no relationship to the pop music tradition of Guettel’s grandfather and mother.  These are not always pretty sounds, but are more neo-romantic classical music, much like opera, operetta and Steven Sondheim.  There are unexpected harmonic shifts, the language switches from Italian to English. 

The chords and melody are often counterpoint, they don't always parallel each other.  The music being played by the orchestra, and the tones being sung aren't the same, so the resulting sound may be perceived as discordant.   People don't go out of the theatre humming the music or singing the songs.  There aren't any Lerner and Lowe or Stephen Schwartz songs in this show.  It's a different type of musical theatre animal.

The 2005 Broadway production ran 504 performances.  The cast included Matthew Morrison, now of FAME fame.

Interestingly, on June 15, 2006, shortly before its closing night, the show was broadcast on PBS television’s LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER, drawing more than two million viewers and setting in motion a national touring production.

Shaw’s production, presented on the postage stamp-sized thrust stage in the Court House Theatre, is graced with a clever fragmented set consisting of three classical arches and a small platform that easily changes from street scene, to hotel room, to retail store, to church, to living room.  The musicians are tucked behind the set, in view of the audience.

The well staged sophisticated musical is creatively directed by Jay Turvey.  There is no choreography, and the story line is enmeshed with the music.

The score contains no songs that have become well known although “Love to Me,” “The Light in the Piazza,” and “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” are all beautiful.  In “Aiutami” Guettel writes a discordant tune that perfectly parallels Clara’s chaotic inner feelings and hysterical outburst.

The Shaw cast is universally superb.  Jacqueline Thair creates in Clara a woman/child who, after being kicked by a pony at her childhood birthday party, is forever stuck in the emotional state of a preteen.  Thair is completely believable when she becomes lost, doesn’t get her way, or falls quickly in love and wants to get married without thinking of consequences.  She possess a lovely singing voice.

Handsome Jeff Irving creates a Fabrizio so bound up in young love, that we believe he can overlook Clara’s difficulties and take care of her, thus creating an almost fairy tale conclusion.  He has a powerful and expressive singing voice.

Patty Jamieson, the up-tight southern belle of a mother makes us believe that she has her daughter’s best interests at heart as she fights through life with a controlling husband.

Julain Molnar is believable as Fabrizio’s father.  The rest of cast is equally excellent.

Capsule judgement:  Shaw’s THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is a special night of musical theatre that might not be to everyone’s liking.  To appreciate the show, the viewer must put aside an attitude of what a musical should sound like and embrace this “different” approach.  I, for one, loved the story, the music and the production.

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA runs through October 13 in the Court House Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

An agreeable GUYS AND DOLLS @ The Shaw that forgets it takes place in New York

GUYS AND DOLLS is the consummate American musical.  Set in New York, it contains all the brash sounds of the city and attitudes of the “gangstas,” “gamblas” and underworld characters written about so vividly by humorist and author, Damon Runyon.  From the horseracing betting open number (“Fugue for Tinhorns”), to street preaching of the mission band (“Follow the Fold”), this is a farcical look at what makes the “Big Apple” the fast paced and outlandish place that it is.

Runyon’s short stories, THE IDYLL OF MISS SARAH BROWN and BLOOD PRESSURE, form the basis for GUYS AND DOLLS.  Frank Loesser’s lyrics and Abe Burrows’ book, integrate together to make this a well written musical, and earning it the fourth spot on the list of the “Top 100 Musicals of All Time.” 

Probably no one knew New York as well as Runyon.  In fact, the adjective “Runyonesque” refers to the well etched characters and the type of situations and dialogue that Runyon depicted.

The story line centers on local gamblers, plus a big shot from Chicago, all depending on Nathan Detroit to set up “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.”  Unfortunately, Nathan doesn’t have the $1000 payment for the place.  He bets Sky Masterson that the handsome professional gambler can’t get a date with Sarah Brown, the up-tight moralistic leader of Times Square mission.  To add to Nathan’s problems, Miss Adelaide, his long time fiancée, is determined to get married, right now (“Adelaide’s Lament”)!  Of course, in the end, as happens in all good musical comedies, everything turns out  right (“Marry the Man Today”).

The strong score includes “I’ll Know,” “Guys and Dolls,” “If I Were a Bell,” “My Time of Day,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “More I Cannot Wish You,” and “Sue Me.”

The show has stories that make for theatre lore.  For one, Vivian Blaine was originally cast as the conservative Sarah.  When it was determined that she was not right for the role, the part of Miss Adelaide was written specifically for Blaine’s comic talents.  In addition, the show was selected to be the winner of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  But because writer Abe Burrows was censured by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the award was never given and there was no Pulitzer Prize for Drama awarded that year.

For GUYS AND DOLLS to be completely successful requires a personal understanding of Runyon’s New York.  Unfortunately, director Tadeusz Bradecki seems unschooled in Big Apple shenanigans and dialect.  The production is too leisurely paced, lacks the necessary razzle dazzle, “duh” characters don’t “tawk” right, and the show lacks spontaneity.  This is New York, not Toronto!  New Yorkers, especially the shady characters of this script, simply aren’t as proper and nice as the Canadians who are playing them on the Shaw stage.

This isn’t to say the show is bad, just not everything it should be.  The choreography is well conceived, the orchestra is excellent, and the costumes are era correct.

Jenny Wright steals the show as Miss Adelaide.  Her versions of “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” and “Take Back Your Mink” are all show stoppers.  “Sue Me,” her duet with the delightful Shawn Wright (Nathan) was a fun filled romp.

Thom Allison does a great job with “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat.”  Handsome Kyle Blair physically and vocally fits the role of Sky Masterson.   His “Luck Be a Lady,” was well sung.  Peter Millard (Arvide Abernathy) does a nice rendition of “More I Cannot Wish You.” Unfortunately, Elodie Gillett has none of the under level warmth nor charm needed for Sarah Brown and gives a surface level performance. 

Capsule judgement:  GUYS AND DOLLS is a pleasant production, but lacks the dynamics and Runyonesque qualities to make it a great show.  Too bad.  With a little bit of Yankee flair, it could have been excellent.  “More I Cannot Wish You.”

GUYS AND DOLLS runs through November 3 in the Festival Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

FAITH HEALER a tedious Irish tale of depression at The Shaw

Irish authors like James Joyce, Sean O’Casey, and John Synge write of the depression, alcoholism and ingrained bleakness of the Irish.  Brian Friel, who is considered by many to be the greatest living English-language dramatist is also a writer who showcases his kin.  He is hailed as the Irish Chekhov due to putting the spotlight realistically on the Irish.  He is a prolific writer, having penned more than thirty plays.

Friel often writes of the “village of the mind, more a depository for remembered or invented experience than a geographical location.”  He also alludes to the itinerant “shanachie,” the teller of tales who wanders from town to town supporting himself by setting up in a town hall or church rectory and charging for his relating of stories.  Often the tales are full of Irish blarney and incorporate outrageous lies.  Friel, himself admits that, “not even I can believe what has or has not happened.”

FAITH HEALER, which is one of Friel’s lesser works, consists of four monologues, spoken by three of the play’s subjects:  Frank Hardy, the faith healer, his wife, Grace, and Teddy, his cockney manager.

Each of the monologues tells Frank’s story, including an incident in a Welsh village when he supposedly cured ten people.  The tales, of course, view Frank and his life from different perspectives.  There are references to whether Grace is really his wife or is his mistress, whether he fathered a child with her, whether the faith healer has any real powers, and why the record of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” is played at each of his healing sessions. 

We not only find out about Grace’s suicide, but of Frank’s possibly being killed for his lack of ability to heal a cripple.  As often is the case in Irish depressive tales, Frank looks at his impending death with a sense of homecoming, but we are never sure whether the death really happened.

The play has met with limited success.  Its Broadway run lasted only twenty performances.  The lack of notoriety is not surprising.  The play is all talk and no action.  The repeated telling of the same tale three times doesn’t hold attention.  The lack of humor or drama also adds to the problem.

Shaw’s production, under the direction of Craig Hall, rambles on, tediously, lacking the material to captivate attention.  There was a considerable exiting of audience following the first act. 

Jim Mezon, who appears in the first and fourth monologue, is intent in his narration.  Corrine Koslo, who is forced to present an overly long speech, seems distant from the material, sitting almost motionless in a chair for the entire speech.  Only Peter Krantz, as Frank’s manager, adds animation and a little ironic humor to his segment.

The set design and lighting is as bland as the material, but, that’s probably their purpose.

Capsule judgement:  Brian Friel’s FAITH HEALER is definitely not a play for everyone.  It fails to grab and hold attention, giving the director and actors a difficult performance task.  It’s unclear why the artistic team at The Shaw chose this play when much better Friel scripts are available.

THE FAITH HEALER runs at the Shaw Festival through October 6, 2013 in the Royal George Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

ENCHANTED APRIL: The show must go on at Shaw

At the start of the second act of a mid-July showing of The Shaw Festival’s ENCHANTED APRIL, a loud burst of thunder from a raging summer storm shook the theatre, and zapped out the lights.  The set was in the midst of being changed and froze, halfway between the first act England set and second act Italy. With the electricity out, the standby generator popped on.  Unfortunately, the outage destroyed the lighting and other electric production presets and the show was forced to stop! 

On stage, one of the actresses held her position as the lights went on, then off again.  The show resumed for a few seconds, and then, once again, there was blackness. After several apologetic announcements by the stage manager, and a forced intermission, much to the delight of the audience, the old adage, “The show must go on,” was achieved!

As to the play, itself, the question presented is, what happens when four women, all of whom are caught in psychologically repressive environments, leave damp, rainy London and go on holiday in sunny Italy?  If they are characters in Elizabeth von Arnim’s charming novel and Matthew Barber’s well-written theatrical adaption of ENCHANTED APRIL, they find a new appreciation for life.

The story centers on Mrs. Arnett and Mrs. Wilton, who meet at their ladies club in London.  They are both looking for an escape from oppressive marriages, and realize that they are reading the same advertisement offering an  month-long April rental for a small medieval castle in Italy.   They hatch a plan to find two other women to share the expenses of subletting the property.  The duo reluctantly sign on with the beautiful, but aloof Lady Caroline, who has secret issues of her own, and Mrs. Graves, an elderly up-tight matron whose rigidity is a just cause for concern. 

Drop this quartet into an idyllic sun-soaked setting filled with flowers, sea, an irreverently enthusiastic housekeeper, and the charming owner of the castle, and there are possibilities for laughs, a bit of farcical slapstick, and a happy ending.

Shaw’s production is lovingly directed by Jackie Maxwell.  Each character is perfectly etched.  The settings and costumes are era and attitude correct,  while the lighting, which creates the perfect balance of British overcast and Italian bliss, adds clear emotional reactions.

Though it is sometimes a little difficult to understand some words due to her accent, inconsistent projection, and speed of speech, Moya O’Connell, makes for a charming hyper Lotty Wilton, who develops a women whose life in England is thwarted by her controlling husband.  This is a person who needs to escape or she will perish as a caged bird.

Rose Arnott, is a woman living in the shadow of the death of her son and a husband who has basically checked out of their marriage and into the life of a famous book writer with a mistress.  Tara Rosling is spot on in her creation of the conflicted woman, who finally confronts her demons, with the  encouragement of Anthony, the young artist and owner of the castle.

Donna Belleville is vocal and movement perfect as the controlling Mrs.
Graves.  Her sparring with Costanza, the housekeeper, and pointed attempts to control the other three guests is nicely done.  Her transformation from humorless uptight woman to a charmer is beautifully developed.

Marla McLean crreates a clear characterization as the beautiful, reclusive Lady Carolyn, who has a surprising secret to escape and deep needs to fulfill.

Kevin McGarry, with his matinee idol good looks and fine acting skills, convinces as the charming artist and owner of the Italian castle.

Sharry Flett almost steals the show as the Italian speaking, free-will housekeeper.  Her comic timing is perfect and her expressive face a canvas of multiple-moods.

Jeff Meadows (Mellersh Wilton) and Patrick Galligan (Frederick Arnott) develop the controlling and emotionally distant husbands with clarity.  The scene in which Meadows drops his towel and exposes his body, and moons the audience, was a show-stopper.  (Yes, male nudity at The Shaw!)

Capsule judgement:  Shaw’s ENCHANTED APRIL is a well-performed, well directed, well written charming comedy that should delight those interested in an escape from the real world into a voyage of discovery of what is really important in life.

ENCHANTED APRIL runs until October 26, 2013 at the Festival Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

The Shaw Festival's 2013 season

The Shaw Festival is one of the two major Canadian theatre celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional high quality venues.

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries. 

Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to The Shaw, as it is called by locals, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres. For information on other B&Bs go to

There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorite is The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street).

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows on the schedule:

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA-- Shaw’s THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is a special night of musical theatre that might not be to everyone’s liking.  To appreciate the show, the viewer must put aside an attitude of what a musical should sound like and embrace this “different” approach.  I, for one, loved the story, the music and the production.  Through October 13 in the Court House Theatre.

GUYS AND DOLLS--GUYS AND DOLLS is a pleasant production, but lacks the dynamics and Runyonesque qualities to make it a great show.  Too bad.  With a little bit of Yankee flair, it could have been excellent.  “More I Cannot Wish You.”  Through November 3, 2013 in the Festival Theatre.

ENCHANTED APRIL--Shaw’s ENCHANTED APRIL is a well-performed, well directed, well written charming comedy that should delight those interested in an escape from the real world into a voyage of discovery of what is really important in life.  Through October 26, 2013 at the Festival Theatre.

PEACE IN OUR TIME— PEACE IN OUR TIME is a farcical romp, pitting the Three Stooges  against Shavian satire. Though the second act gets a little tedious, the overall effect is a learning experience about the foibles of politics and the stupidity of humans for allowing governmental systems to operate with little regard for humanity.  Through October 12, 2013 in the Court House Theatre.

TRIFLES--TRIFLES is an interesting quick venture in the theatre which presents two pillars of theatrical writing in early works.  It’s worth seeing this production  to experience how Susan Glaspell and Eugene O’Neil give glimpses of their talents in these early endeavors.  Through October 12, 2013 in the Court House Theatre.

FAITH HEALER-- Brian Friel’s FAITH HEALER is definitely not a play for everyone.  It fails to grab and hold attention, giving the director and actors a difficult performance task.  It’s unclear why the artistic team at The Shaw chose this play when much better Friel scripts are available.  Through October 6, 2013 in the Royal George Theatre.

OUR BETTERS— OUR BETTERS is a social commentary that will delight those who like to delve into British social classes.  In this case they also get to see snapshots of Americans trying to be Brits, upper class ones at that.  Through October 27, 2013 in the Royal George Theatre.

To read the complete reviews of these shows go to:

Shows I didn’t see, but are part of the season are:

LADY WINDEMERE’S FAN--Oscar Wilde’s bitingly satirical attack on Victorian morals.

MAJOR BARBARA—Shaw’s provocative and witty play about immorality and the testing of beliefs and ideals.

ARCADIA—Tom Stoppard’s intellectually dazzling mystery and love story, which is set in both 1809 and the present time.

Two plays which will be presented as staged readings:

THE MOUNTAINTOP—Broadway’s smash hit of this past season regarding the night before the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.  (For a review of the play go to and search the title.  (Only September 1)

JERUSALEM—The Tony Award winning play which ran in London (2009) and on Broadway (2010), which concerns tall tales and past glories. (Only October 13)

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Go to the Shaw Festival! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!  Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.

Monday, July 29, 2013

none too fragile's ON THE LINE, compelling script, acting at its finest!

Sean Derry and Alanna Romansky, co-directors of none too fragile theater, have a knack for picking scripts that insight and excite.  They reach for creating dissonance in the minds of the audience.  In their short existence, the theatre has taken on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, racial hatred, and now unionism and big business.  No wonder the venue bills itself as “Akron and Northeast Ohio’s home for kick-a** theater!.”

ON THE LINE, which could be identified as a well written acting exercise, has an unusual background.  Presented off-Broadway by Mike Nichols, noted as a director rather than a producer, it starred the author, Joe Roland, in its initial staging.  Roland was a student at Nichols’ New Actors Workshop. 

The play centers on three buddies that are bound so tightly that from the first grade until we meet them as adult employees of a manufacturing plant, they spend all their time together sharing beers, playing darts, even standing next to each other on the assembly line.  And, like the three musketeers, they fight not only to cure the ills of their limited society, but even, at times, each other.  Their resolve is tested when one becomes a union executive, another an employer “suit,” while the third remains in the plant and suffers the humiliation of a failed strike.  The concluding action of the play tests their friendship like no other life experience.

The play, like those of Clifford Odets (AWAKE AND SING and WAITING FOR LEFTY) and John Galsworthy’s STRIFE, bares open the soft underbelly that is exposed by labor conflicts.

There appears to be no question that the writer is impassioned about class differences, management/union issues, and personal loyalties.  He writes emotionally and effectively.

The entire play requires split second timing, fast pacing, clear characterizations, and realism.  The combination of Sean Derry’s focused directing and the superb performances makes the whole experience work. 

Even the setting helps.  Shoved into a back room of Bricco’s Restaurant in Akron, the small black box theatre, where no patron is more than ten feet from the stage, adds in building the tension as the story unfolds.

Robert Branch masterfully develops, Dev, a paranoid loose canon, who has no emotional shut-off switch.  As in none too fragile’s last play, WHITE PEOPLE, Branch is mesmerizing.  His on-the-line union monologue is a classic of powerful acting, as are his maniacal sinking ship and the football game speeches.  He grabs hold of the role and wears it like his own skin.  He is quickly proving to be one of the area’s premiere actors, with Robert DeNiro-like qualities.

Mark Mayo creates Jimmy into a teddy bear guy, with a depth of loyalties.  A college grad, he puts aside his own personal success to stay with his friends.  Even when placed in a difficult position, he chooses loyalty.  His is an excellent portrayal.

Andrew Narten is the third member of this “dream” cast.  His Mikey is a well etched nicely textured characterization. 

Capsule judgement:  none too fragile’s ON THE LINE is one of the best lessons in unit acting that has appeared on a local stage.  For anyone interested in seeing acting masters in action, developing a thought-provoking script, in a well directed production, this is for you!  Hurrah! 

ON THE LINE runs through August 24, 2013 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron.  Use the free valet parking, as car space is limited.  For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to

Saturday, July 27, 2013

FIDDLER highlights all the right emotionally charged traditions at Porthouse

Eric van Baars, the director of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, now on stage at Porthouse Theatre on the grounds of Blossom Music Center, states of the show, “This life-affirming musical will illuminate the powers of tradition, both in the theatrical sense of the rituals which draw us to musical theatre and the powers of communal values to support our tough decisions in life.”

He goes on to say, “Just as Tevya is tested to accept change, our production will play with some of the traditional elements, promising to be not your Bubbe’s FIDDLER.”   van Baars, fortunately, isn’t totally correct.  Having just seen an embarrassing tradition-light production of FIDDLER at Canada’s Stratford Festival, it was with great happiness that I experienced a production that would have made my “Bubbe” (Yiddish, for grandmother) hark back to her roots in Lomza, Poland, a real-life parallel to the musical’s shtetl (village).

When Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock joined forces to write FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, now recognized as one of the greatest of American musicals, they did so in order to create an homage to their heritage.  A heritage which included hundreds of years of Jews in eastern Europe, whose life style and lives had been destroyed by pogroms (uprisings), forced evacuations, and ultimately by the “final solution,” the Holocaust. 

Traditions were the guts of the life of these people, for, as Tevya, the central character indicates, "A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no. But in our little village, you might say everyone is a fiddler on the roof. You might ask, 'if it's so dangerous there, why do we stay up?' Because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!”.

The musical is set  in Tsarist Russia, in 1905.  It is loosely based on TEVYE AND HIS DAUGHTERS, written by the Yiddish writer and humorist, Shalom Aleichem (which in Hebrew means “peace be with you).  The action centers on a poor milkman with five daughters and his attempts to maintain his religious and societal customs, while internal attitude changes and outside influences exert their control over his people.

The story is carried through not only words, but significant and meaningful music and lyrics.  The score includes such classics as “Matchmaker,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “To Life,” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”

The original Broadway production of the show was the first musical in history to surpass the 3,000 performance mark.  It won nine Tony awards.

van Baars, and his production team deserve a standing ovation for the production’s fidelity to traditions.  Correct Hebrew pronunciation, customs such as kissing the mezuzah (prayer scroll) on the door posts, the sanctity of the Sabbath prayer, and adherence to the cantorial musical sounds, were all present.  (Factors missing from the Stratford staging.)

The Porthouse cast is outstanding.  George Roth is a loving Tevya, much in the pattern of Luther Adler and Topol.  Though he engenders the appropriate laughs, he does not play for them through exaggeration (as Harvey Fierstein and Zero Mostel did when they played the role.)   The scenes where Tevya’s resolves are tested are beautifully enacted, played with sincerity and emotional confusion.

Tracee Patterson has the right balance between being a nagging “yiddisher mamma” and the fulcrum which guides her family through strife. “Do You Love Me,” her duet with Roth, is charming.

Though she gets a little shrill at times, Danielle Dorfman creates a believable Tzeitel.  Jessica Benson’s Hodel has a grounded sweet quality, and her version of “Far From the Home I Love,” is a tear inducer.  “Now I Have Everything, which she sings with Jake Wood, is endearing.  Wood makes for a solid Perchik.

Brady Miller is delightful as Motel the Tailor.  Lissy Gulick gets laughs as Yente.  Sam Rohloff does a nice job of developing a believable Fyedka, while Madeleine Drees creates the right pathos as Hodel.  Logan Schmucher plays and performs well as the on-stage Fiddler.

John Crawford’s inventive choreography added much to the show, especially in the delightful staging of the show-stopping “The Dream,” which featured a very funny Brianna DeRosa as Grandma Tzeitel.

Jennifer Korecki’s fine orchestra was cantrorial and klemzer-correct, nicely underscoring, rather than overpowering the singers. 

Nolan O’Dell’s scenic design worked well, but one might question the contemporary pattern of the grillwork on the sliding screens. The inventive writing the names of seasons in Hebrew on the stage floor was a creative touch.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Nothing but admirable praise can be heaped on Eric van Baars and his Porthouse cast of FIDDLER.  This absolutely must see production is everything one would want in the creation of the tribute to a way of life destroyed, but lived!  L’Chaim!
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF runs until August 11 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

Friday, July 26, 2013

SELF DEFENSE offers a view of a female serial killer at convergence continuum

Clyde Simon, the Artistic Director of convergence-continuum, never steers clear of in-your-face, lurid language-laced scripts.  He has used this formula to consistently fill his theatre with cult patrons who are drawn to Simon’s tastes.  SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN is a typical con-con offering.

Males, not females, tend to gain the distinction of being serial killers.  SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN, however, is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos (named Jolene Palmer in this script), a prostitute who earned herself the title of “The First Female Serial Killer.”  Her fame was based on the “honor” of killing seven men.  She claimed that the acts were all in self-defense.  The judge didn’t buy the plea, and Wuornos was sentenced to death.

The tale switches scenes quickly from strip joints, to Palmer’s home, to jail, to cars on route I-95 and woods along that route, to a corner’s office, a church, and a courtroom.  We learn of a desperate search for love and acceptance, following an abusive, sadistic childhood, and her forced abandonment of a child that was sired by her father’s friend.  She turns to Lu, a masculine lesbian, who is both immature and not-too-bright.  She swears eternal love and promises to take care of Lu.  As a means for increased income, Palmer turns to prostituting herself.

As the police investigate first one murder, than numerous others, a pattern emerges.  Much like the numerous television shows that follow this format, comments are made, actions take place quickly, often without the proper background to develop whole ideas.  In the end, Palmer is caught, and her personal life and the politics of the situation unfold.  Women’s rights, religious fanaticism, and the issue of whether males are more protected than females, the hypocrisies of the legal system, and if despicable men are treated better than the women who serve them, are all addressed.

The segmented format of the script is not surprising as the author, Carson Kreitzer, is well known for her ten-minute plays and monologues.

The con-con production, under the direction of Geoffrey Hoffman, is uneven.  Part of this is due to the choppiness of the script which seems more written for television, with segments snapped together by blackouts, much like media production fade-ins and fade-outs .  The acting is also uneven.  At times screaming and shouting emerge with no clear stimulus.  Some of the lines sound contrived coming from the mouths of the actors.  Whether this is the script or the talent level of the actors is debatable.

Laurel Hoffman creates a maniacal Jolene Palmer, complete with wild eyes, clenched hands, paranoid language, and bipolar mood swings.  At times she is terrifying, at other times her actions seem somewhat over done.

Aaron Elersich, as the investigator with a conscience, creates a generally believable character.  Emily Pucell develops a clear characterization as the Coroner.

The rest of the cast vary in their levels of believability.

Capsule Judgement: SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN has an interesting story to tell.  It’s too bad that the author doesn’t do a better job of creating a more stage worthy script.  Con-cons production mirrors the script in its inconsistency of effectiveness.

SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN runs through July 27 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Cc’s next show, BASED ON A TOTALLY TRUE STORY, by Robert Aquirre-Sacasa, runs from August 23 through September 14.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brilliant TOMMY rocks the Festival

The Who, which was inducted into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, is noted as one of the holy trinity of British Rock.  They, along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, are credited with making rock a legitimate musical movement.

Founded in the 60s, the group had 27 top singles in the UK and US, 17 top ten albums and were gold, platinum and multi-platinum award winners. 

Besides the group’s fame as performers, Pete Townshend, the guitarist and songwriter for the group, is responsible for developing the book, music and lyrics for TOMMY, a 1969 double album rock opera.  He was joined in developing the book by Des McAnuff.

The album was transformed into a stage play which opened on Broadway in 1993 and ran a very creditable 899 performances.  A remarkable staging of TOMMY is now on stage at The Stratford Festival.

TOMMY tells the tale of a young boy who loses his sight, hearing and speech after witnessing a murder, being raped, and bullied. 

The story starts in 1940 when Tommy’s father and mother meet in London, fall in love, and get married.  Captain Walker goes off to war, and is shot down over Germany.  He is captured and imprisoned.  Thinking her husband is dead, Mrs. Walker, a new mother, moves on with her life.  In 1945 the Captain is freed, and returns home to find his wife with a new lover. A fight ensues between the two men.  Four-year old Tommy, trying to avoid seeing the battle, turns to a mirror to avoid witnessing his father shoot his mother’s boyfriend.  The mirror symbolically absorbs and stymies his emotional growth.

Traumatized Tommy is then molested by his Uncle Ernie and his problems are further developed when his cousin Kevin, a sadist, bullies and abuses the boy.   Kevin, as a lark, takes Tommy to a youth club where blind Tommy astounds everyone by displaying pinball wizardry, becomes known as The Pinball Wizard, and through the attention and self-awareness he miraculously gains back all his senses, but he is still fragmented, unable to emotionally cope.

His recovery makes him into a “semi-god,” with a cult of followers.  He eventually becomes disenchanted with his fame and returns to his family, ultimately smashing the mirror, and becoming whole again as his 4-year-old, 10-year-old and adult-self meld together.

The musical’s score is outstanding.  Highlight selections include “See Me, Feel Me,” “Sensation,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Go to the Mirror,” “I’m Free,” and “Listening to You.”

Stratford’s production, under the creative direction of Des McAnuff, is, as one of the song titles states, an “Amazing Journey.”  The cast, choreography, and musical accompaniment are astounding.  It’s impossible to watch this show passively.  Every aspect grabs and holds the attention.  Even those who may not like rock music, should find this to their liking as the sound doesn’t drown out the singing, but underscores it.

The production creatively illustrates how the newer technologies can be used to enhance the visual aspects of staging.  The videos and images took this show to a new and exciting dimension.

Robert Markus, as the older Tommy, has a strong singing voice, which he uses to create the right images by singing meanings, not just words.  He is totally believable in both the blind and seeing scenes.   He is ably supported by a strong cast which has high level dancing and singing skills. 

Outstanding are Paul Nolan as the smarmy Cousin Kevin, Jeremy Kushnier as Captain Walker, understudy Robin Hutton as Mrs. Walker, and Steve Ross as Uncle Ernie.  Conor Bergauer and Arden Couturier, as the younger Tommys, displayed strong stage presence and were convincing in their characterizations.

Capsule judgement:  Stratford’s production of The Who’s TOMMY is outstanding.  The music, staging and performances command the audience to watch and wraps them in a theatrical experience that they will long remember, creating an “Amazing Journey.”  Wow!

TOMMY runs through October 19, 2013 at the Stratford Festival.  Tickets are limited due to strong demand.  For information call or go to: 800-567-1600 or go on-line to