Saturday, August 12, 2017

Superb “Equus” filled with passion at Blank Canvas



In the early 1970s, master wordsmith and playwright Peter Shaffer read a small news story, with little details, about a boy who had blinded six horses at a stable in Sussex, England.  The writer’s imagination went into full gear.  He created a script which included a family background for the obsessed young man, an image of a troubled but successful psychiatrist, and wove them into a compelling play which he named “Equus.”

The story centers on Alan Strong (Antonio DeJesus), a teenager, living in a small town in England and Martin Dysart (Russell B. Kunz), the psychiatrist who treats him after Heather Saloman (Amiee Collier), a compassionate magistrate, pleads with Dysart to take Alan as a patient. 

From the opening scene, in which Alan tenderly hugs Nugget, a horse, to the emotional closing, Shaffer’s two-and-a-half-hour script grabs and holds the viewer’s attention. 

With Dysart as the narrator, we meet Frank (Andrew Narten), Alan’s atheistic, hypercritical father, and Dora (Claudia Esposito), his enabling school teacher mother.  We learn how Jill Mason (Sarah Blubaugh), a young woman introduces him to stable owner Harry Dalton (Chris Bizub) who hires the boy.  We observe as Jill attempts to introduce the virgin boy to sex.  We observe Alan connect to the stable’s horses (Daryl Kelley, Jason Falkofsky, Zac Hudak, Evan Martin, Anthony Salatino and David Turner), who Alan loves, yet is the subject of his maiming.

We observe Alan change from a boy who chants advertising jingles in order to protect himself from human contact, to revealing a little of his past, to finally coming to an understanding of why he acted as he did, with the possibility of his becoming normal.  “Normal.”  Whatever that means.

Alan is not the only one with high angst.  Dysart is in a loveless, sexless marriage, is living an unfulfilled existence, and finds himself having severe nightmares about being a destructive chief priest in Homeric Greece.

The tale is told in retrospect. Dysart, as the narrator, takes the audience to various times and places as fits the tale, rather than making the story sequential.

“Equus” is a tale of passion, religion, sexuality, pain, blame, and freedom.  Alan, a boy in pain, is obsessed with horses from first coming in contact with one on a beach when he was young.  He creates Equus into a Christ-like figure.  Even his first attempt at sex takes place in his “church,” the horse stable, where he is unable to perform when the horses whinny, sending a message of his wrong doing.   Dysart, as does the audience, tries to figure out if Alan’s problems, including his need for freedom, are his own doing or those created by his parents, and whether he is freeing the horses from their confinement and pain by blinding them.

“Equus” is a difficult play to stage.  For the script to work requires two superb actors, a strong supporting cast, creative staging, a meaningful vision for the horses, subtle and appropriate English accents, and a set that enhances the action.

Fortunately, director Patrick Ciamacco has found the cast and has the originality gene to make the near impossible possible.

At an open tryout, Ciamacco found boyish looking twenty-year old Antonio DeJesus.  DeJesus lives up to the English interpretation of his last name, which is “of God,” as Alan. DeJesus gives what has to be one of the most enveloping, highly-textured performances by a male the local theater season.  Kudos!  Bravo!

Russell B. Kunz creates a believable, well-conceived, tortured Martin Dysart.  He is a great match for DeJesus.

Aimee Collier, Andrew Narten, Claudia Esposito, Chris Bizub and Sarah Blubaugh are all prime in their roles.

Noah Hrebek and Patrick Ciamacco’s horse fabrications, and Ciamacco’s set design, which takes us into a barn, complete with Alan’s pit of Hell, enhances the production.


Be aware that the production includes full frontal male and female nudity.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Equus” is not only one of Blank Canvas’s finest productions, but one of the best stagings of the script I’ve seen.  This is required attendance for anyone interested in experiences of marrying a well-written script with a superb staging.  If for no other reason, go to the theater to experience the marvel of Antonio DeJesus.

Blank Canvas’s “Equus” runs through August 26, 2017, in its near west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvastheatre.com

Next up at BC is their annual fund-raiser on September 1 and 2. “Chess,” is a concert version of the tale of a politically driven, Cold War-era chess tournament between two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—and their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.  It has music by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba, and lyrics by Tim Rice.

October 6-28:  The stage version of the cult-rock movie “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Friday, August 04, 2017

2017 Fall Cleveland Theater Calendar


Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres through the fall season (September-December, 2017). 

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATERS! 



You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info/, or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the local reviewers’ comments about the plays at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/



BECK CENTER 
  216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees


September 15 – October 8
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST--“Crazy” McMurphy, a charming rogue, is placed in a ward at a mental institution ruled by the terrible Nurse Ratched.  It’s a battle of wills!

October 6 – November 5
WAITING FOR GODOT—Beckett’s Existential epic “mystery wrapped in an enigma” which examines the hopeless destiny of the human race. Especially significant in this “reign of Trump.”

December 1 – December 31
Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID—A return visit of the 2016 award winning production tells the timeless fairy tale of Ariel, a mermaid princess, as she dreams of the forbidden land above.

BLANK CANVAS  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
 
Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm

October 6-28
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW—The 1950s science fiction rock musical in which Brad and Janet run into car trouble, go to a creepy castle for some help and find Dr. Frank N. Furter.  (Contains adult language and content.)

December 1-16
URINETOWN THE MUSICAL—In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage causes the government to enforce a ban on private toilets.  Watch in delight as this musical satire exposes social irresponsibility, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement and capitalism at its worst.


CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
7:30 PM Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 PM Saturday and Sunday

September 9-October 1
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE—The Academy Award-winning romantic comedy comes to the stage, complete with sword fights, secret trysts, and backstage drama.

October 21-November 19
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK—Anne’s compelling words come alive and urge viewers to stand up for one another in the face of intolerance, fear, and hate.

November 24-December 23
A CHRISTMAS STORY—Yes, it’s back again…one boy, one holiday wish, The Old Man, Santa at Higbee’s Department Store and the glowing-leg-lamp.  A play for the whole family.


CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/

September 9
PANDEMONIUM 2017:  UNLEASH—CPT’S annual fundraiser transforms the CPT campus into a labyrinth of theatre, dance visual and performance art on every corner.

October 5-7 & 12 (previews), October 13-28 (official run)
THE FAMILY CLAXON—World Premiere of Cleveland Heights award winning writer Eric Coble’s tale of Andrew Claxon who wants to help Grandad Claxon celebrate his birthday but chaos reigns all around the town.

October 5-7
TEATRO PUBLICO NEW PLAY FESTIVAL---A workshop series of new scripts and scenes created by local Latino artists. 

October 26-28 & November 2 (previews), November 3-18 (official run)
THE ART OF LONGING--World premiere of Lisa Lanford’s play that follows the lives of six “third-shift” people who are awake when the rest of the city sleeps.

November 2-5—Y-HAVEN THEATRE PROJECT—An original theater production by the members of Y-Haven, a homeless men’s facility, centering on their life stories.

November 24-26 & 30 (previews), December 1-17 (official run)—
THE LOUSH SISTERS GET HARD FOR THE HOLIDAYS (YIPPIE-KAI-YAY MOTHER LOUSHERS)-- Holly and Jolly Loush return to CPT in this world premiere of a bawdy, boozy, over-the-top holiday cabaret in which they battle villains and attempt to avert disaster. 


convergence continuumconvergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

TBA



DOBAMA
 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

September 1-24
BROWNSVILLE SONG (B-SIDE FOR TRAY)—The Cleveland premiere of Kimber Lee’s story of the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn where life is often tragically cut short.

October 13-November 12
MARJORIE PRIME—Stars Cleveland legend Dorothy Silver as an 85-year-old woman with a handsome new companion which explores what it means to be human in the digital age.

December 1-30
SHERLOCK HOLMES:  THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS—It’s December on the streets of London, Sherlock Holmes is missing, and a young girl’s grandfather has been abducted.  Who will save the day?  The game’s afoot.


ENSEMBLE THEATRE
  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

September 29-October 22
WELL—Lisa Kron, the Oberlin grad who wrote the book and lyrics for the award-winning FUN HOME, writes about a mother who has the extraordinary ability to heal a changing neighborhood despite her inability to heal herself.

November 17-December 10
THE HAIRY APE—Eugene O’Neill’s epic expressionist play about a brutish, unthinking laborer who searches for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the rich.

December 1-17
THE LITTLE PRINCE—A play with music tells the tale of a world-weary and disenchanted Aviator whose sputtering plane strands him in the Sahara Desert and his meeting a mysterious “little man.”

GREAT LAKES THEATER
  http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3

September 29-November 4
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (A SOARING MUSICAL EPIC)—Victoria Bussert directs the Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Parnell musical tale of Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer, who becomes an unlikely hero.

October 6-November 5
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM—Shakespeare’s comic tale of madness, mistaken identity,  mismatched lovers and mischief-making fairies.

November 25-December 23
A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s ultimate redemption.



INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATER   http://interplayjewishtheatre or 216-393-PLAY

Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required. 

November 18
Special event—details to be announced!


KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Check the theater’s website for exact times and dates


September
SIMPLY SIMONE:  THE MUSIC OF NINA SIMONE—a musical chronicling the life and career of the songstress.

October-November
THE LAKE EFFECT—Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph’s tale about estranged siblings who reunite at their father’s restaurant in an evening of memories and family secrets.  (Produced in collaboration with Ensemble Theatre.)

December
TBA--An original world premiere of a jazz review featuring holiday classics from Cole Porter to Gershwin.


LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE
  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp
Productions are staged at Lakeland Community College

October 11 & 12 @ noon, October 13 & 14 @ 7:30 PM

A GUIDE’S GUIDE TO LAWNFIELD—Local playwright Faye Sholiton’s play about an 18-year old history geek and unabashed fan of James A. Garfield. While leading a tour of the late president's Mentor home, he encounters a visitor who is particularly adamant that he gets the story right.

NEAR WEST THEATRE
   216-961-6391 or nearwestheatre.org

September 22-October 1
XANADU (Youth Production, ages 9-15)-- a musical comedy based on the 1980 cult classic film of the same name

November 17-December 10
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Intergenerational Production (Ages 7 and up)—A musical based on the Disney film of the same name which tells the story of a cold-hearted prince who has been transformed into a creature as punishment for his selfish ways. To revert into his human form, he must earn the love of a beautiful young lady.

none-too-fragile theatre   330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com


September 1-16
LAST OF THE BOYS—Steven Dietz’s serio-comedy about a Vietnam vet which examines identities and memoires of the past.

October 27-November 11
A STEADY RAIN— With a plot similar to a real-life event that involved Jeffrey Dahmer, it focuses on two Chicago policemen who inadvertently return a Vietnamese boy to a cannibalistic serial killer who claims to be the child's uncle.

OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
 (Winter and Spring Home:  Greystone Hall, Akron)
103 S. High Street, Akron 44308

September 22-October 8
THREE MUSKETEERS:  AN ADVENTURE WITH MUSIC—An OSF Family Theatre production of Alexander Dumas's classic tale of friendship, daring, romance, and intrigue...with music!  Curtain—7 PM-Thursday-Saturday and 2 PM on Sunday.

December 1-17
CAMELOT—Lerner and Loewe’s “one brief shining moment” musical tells the legend of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Thursday-Saturday @ 8, Sunday @ 2.
 

PLAYHOUSESQUARE
   216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org

See the website for dates and times

September 12-17
THE BOOK OF MORMON—The award winning outrageous musical comedy which follows the misadventures of a mismatched pair of Mormon missionaries sent halfway across the world to spread the “Good Word.”

September 29-30
MARTIN LUTHER ON TRIAL—A new original play about Martin Luther on Trial.  A trial in the afterlife, and the prosecutor is the Devil.

October 17-November 5
WAITRESS—This ground-breaking show, with an all-female creative team, with music and lyrics by 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, is an empowering musical about a woman whose dreams come true.  (The national tour will be rehearsed and start in CLE.)—Key Bank Broadway Series.

November 8-December 3
WICKED—a return visit of the Broadway sensation that looks at what happened in the Land of Oz long before Dorothy arrives.  Key Bank Broadway Series.

December 5-23
ON YOUR FEET! —Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s musical story of their breaking barriers to become crossover sensations at the very top of the pop music world.  Key Bank Broadway Series.

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT  
http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information

(productions staged in review format with narration)



October 14 @ 7 PM-Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College,
October 15-3 PM-Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square
OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: THE IMPACT OF OKLAHOMA! —75 years after its
Broadway premiere the first truly book musical reaffirms the strength of our national character.  Featuring Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, Ursula Cataan, Lindsey Sandham Leonard, Joe Monaghan, Shane Patrick O’Neill and Fabio Polanco.

December 15—8 PM, December 16—2 PM—Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College
December 17 and 18—7 PM—Night town Restaurant, Cleveland Heights
A CHRISTMAS CABARET—Several dozen songs about the holidays which will please the entire family.  Featuring Nancy Maier, Joe Monaghan, Bill Rudman and Sandra Simon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

“Wilde Tales,” a fun inclusive experience at The Shaw


A yearly highlight of the Shaw Festival season are their lunch-time hour productions which are staged in the intimate Court House Theatre.

This year’s offering is “Wilde Tales,” a fun program and inclusive experience.  It’s composed of three Oscar Wilde short children’s stories adapted by Kate Henning and takes place in the magnificent garden of Oscar Wilde’s imagination.

The offerings include “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” and “The Selfish Giant” all based on the concept that love is “a powerful, life-altering force which is not confined to the mating of a man and a woman, not, for that matter even between humans.”  The fact that Wilde was a homosexual adds to the understanding of his expansive view of love.

In “The Happy Prince,” a sparrow comes across a golden statue of a prince.  The statue weeps for the poor citizens of the town.  The sparrow desires to travel the world with his flock, but he is so taken with the honesty and passion of the prince that he stays and aids the prince by doing kind things for the town folk.  Unfortunately, as the season changes from summer to winter, the sparrow dies from the cold, leaving the prince alone, with a broken heart.

The "Nightingale and the Rose" finds a nightingale who comes across a young student who is in love.  In order to win his lady fair, the youth must find the reddest rose in the kingdom.  In order to get the needed deep blood-red color, the nightingale impales her own heart on a thorn.  She gives her life so that the student can find true love.

"The Selfish Giant," centers on a mean giant who forbids children to play in his beautiful garden.  Because of his selfishness, winter lasts forever and the garden never blooms again.  Finally, the giant recants and allows the children back into the garden, and it flowers again.  One small boy especially wins over the giant.  After the boy leaves, the giant does not see him again until his life ends.

An announcement for the play states, “Calling all children!  We want you not only to see “Wilde Tales” but to make it happen.  Sign up in advance for the pre-show one-hour workshop with the actors to help create the magic on stage.  For ages 6 to 12.”

Yes, children circle the thrust stage of the theatre and give the actors props, some get to take roles, all become the flowers in the garden.  They also get to have their pictures taken with the cast.

The children on stage, and using members of the audience to make sound effects, sing, and do various other tasks, is part of The Shaw’s new policy for creating inclusive theatre which is a device used in this year’s offerings.

The cast includes:  Marion Day, Emily Lukasik, PJ Prudat, Sanjay Talwar, Jonathan Tan and Kelly Wong playing multi-roles.

Capsule judgment:  Christine Brubaker’s direction is creative, the casts are excellent, and the over-all effect is fun, educational and stimulating.  This is a wonderful example of children’s theatre for those of all ages.

For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. 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.

Tom McCamus is superb in “The Madness of George III” at The Shaw


G. Bernard Shaw, for whom the Shaw Festival is named and dedicated, wrote in “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” “Kings are not born, they are made by artificial hallucination.”

He may well have been thinking of George III, the central figure in Alan Bennett’s “The Madness of George III,” which is now in production at the Shaw Festival.

The play is a fictionalized biographical study of the latter half of the reign of George III.  Yes, that George, the one against whom the colonists rebelled, the one who was known as “The Mad George” because of his eccentric behavior, the one who found himself in odds with his son for the leadership of the United Kingdom during a period known as the Regency Crisis of 1788-89.

George III, who came to the throne at age 22 when his grandfather died, was blessed with a booming British economy which was just entering the industrial revolution and, in spite of losing the American colonies, soon added Canada to the British empire.  In spite of this he found himself in conflict with the Whigs, who were strongly opposed to an absolute monarchy.  His stubbornness and micromanagement style of leadership soon caused his popularity to reign.  His situation was not helped by the actions of his oldest son who agitated for George’s removal from the throne so he could be named regent.

The king’s erratic behavior, which with present day knowledge would have been treated as a mental illness with possible mood stabilizing drugs, was beyond the medical field of the time.  He was treated with many primitive methods including leeches, bloodletting, blistering and purging.

Eventually his wife, brought in a Dr. Willis who used “new” procedures.  The King eventually showed signs of some recovery and asserted his control.

The play, rather than plot driven, is a character study and the success of the play rests on the talents of the actor playing the role.

At The Shaw, the role is taken by the very talented Tom McCamus.  His performance is a textured creation displaying extraordinary emotion and the ability to handle humor.  He does not portray George III, he becomes George III.   This is a master class of acting abilities complete with an obvious understanding of the motives and psyche of the man he is portraying.




Chick Reid, as Queen Charlotte, Jim Mezon as Dr. Baker, and André Sills as Pitt, are also very good.  

Kent Bennett’s direction is problematic.  In spite of McCamus and some of the performers’ excellence, the director fails to develop the same needed reality in many others. They, instead, feign their roles, with overdone gestures, fey expressions, often bridging on farce shadowed with melodrama.  They create caricatures rather than real people.

One must question why the set design included two walls of box seats in which audience members were seated.  Yes, even though the production philosophy under the direction of Tim Carrol, the Shaw’s new artistic director, is for two-way, inclusive theater, the presence of the on-stage on-lookers is questionable. 

The stage audience couldn’t be commoners, as the King would never address “the people” directly.  The cast couldn’t interact with them as this is a realistic play requiring not breaking reality with side comments. Even something that could have made sense for the stage audience didn’t work.  The two young girls placed in the second balcony to throw roses onto the cast during the curtain call failed, as the lasses started their actions after the cast had permanently left the stage.

Capsule judgment:  In spite of some questionable directorial decisions, “The Madness of George III” is a play well worth seeing.  The script provides a fascinating view of a historical figure not often exposed to the public and Tom McCamus gives a tour de force performance in the lead role.

For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. 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.

The Shaw’s "Saint Joan" is a compelling, effective, inventive production


Joan d’Arc was born January 6, 1412, and was burned at the stake on October 30, 1431.  


During her short life, the oft referred to “Maid of Orleans” was the object of both adoration and damnation because of her role in the Hundred Years’ War and her connection to King Charles VII.  The uncrowned monarch sent her to the siege of Orleans.  Within nine days, leaning heavily on the advice of her “voices,” she defeated the English and had Charles crowned.

Some present day mental health practitioners would label Joan as schizophrenic.  Religious leaders and the French who adored her thoroughly believed that the voices of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who she vowed she heard and spoke with, were real. 

Her life ended at age 19 when she was captured by the English, refused to admit she was practicing heresy and was sentenced to death by pro-English Bishop Beauvais Pierre Cauchon.  Her post-humus conviction was rescinded in 1456, and she was declared a martyr.  She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.


Joan has been the subject of literature, paintings, sculpture, and memorialized by writers, filmmakers and composers.  Even a video game has been created with her as the main character.
George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” was written three years after her canonization and dramatizes her life based on the records of the trial which led to her death. 


Interestingly, Shaw, who was a noted religious nonbeliever, indicated that concerned people acted in good faith according to their beliefs.  He stated in the play’s long preface, “the characterization of Joan by most writers is romanticized to make her accusers come off as completely unscrupulous and villainous.” 


Not all agree with Shaw as one historian of the time argued that the play was highly inaccurate, especially in its depiction of medieval society.


Some theatre historians declare the play to be Shaw’s “only tragedy,” and Joan a tragic hero.  Shaw, himself, characterized it as “"A Chronicle Play in 6 Scenes and an Epilogue". 


The Shaw production, under the direction of new Artistic Director, Tim Carroll, is captivating.  He states he chose the play to be his first offering in his tenure because,” I have always loved “Saint Joan.”  He goes on to explain that it appears that this play liberated the poet in the writer and that “I think Shaw sees himself in her.” 


The script obviously also released something in Carroll.  His staging is creative. The motives of the interpretation are crystal clear, the use of contemporary dress and language leaves no idea hidden, the imaginative set design which places all the action front and center eliminates theatricality, the audience is sucked in and is an active witness to history.


Joan is not portrayed as a wild religious fanatic or a psychotic.  Sara Topham brilliantly underplays the young lady.  She is real, vulnerable, yet assured.  She does not rant.  She explains with conviction.  We believe that she believes.  Topham does not act Joan, she is Joan.


Masterfully, Wade Bogert-O’Brien as the Dauphin, avoids past portrayals of Charles VII-to be, as a fey sniveling idiot.  His Dauphin is a young man aware that he is unready to assume the massive responsibility being thrust upon him and doing everything to avoid being termed a failure. 


Other members of the cast are equally as competent, each a clearly etched realistic character.  There are no caricatures here, only well-conceived characters.


Kevin LaMotte’s lighting and Judith Bowden’s design aid in creating this epic production.  Claudio Vena’s original music helps set the right tone for the style of the staging.


Capsule judgement: “Saint Joan,” under the direction of Tim Carroll, is a masterful piece of theater.  The production is clear in its intent and purpose and compels the audience to be a part of history.  Bravo!


For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. 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.

Delightful, thought-provoking “Androcles And the Lion,” the play to see at Shaw


George Bernard Shaw, for whom Canada’s Shaw Festival is named, was noted for his strong political, gender, governmental and education views.  His special target of biting, yet often subtle satire, was the church.  It didn’t matter the denomination. Shaw skewered all organized religion.

The preface of his “Androcles and the Lion,” which is often referred to as “The Gospels of Shaw,” is an examination of the writer’s analysis of “The Bible” which proclaims the Irishman’s belief that Jesus was a benevolent genius, was brought to popularity due to his martyrdom, but whose ideas were lost at his crucifixion as the Christian church followed the teachings of Paul and substituted ritual for Christ’s philosophy.  The preface, interestingly enough, is longer than the 1912 short play. 

Shaw tells the tale of Androcles (the delightful Patrick Galligan), a Christian tailor, who, while wandering in the forest with his nagging wife, came upon the injured lion and removed a thorn from the paw of the king of the jungle.

Androcles is captured, along with many Christians, and is brought to the Colosseum by the Romans.  Their fate is to be thrown to the lions or participate in gladiatorial combat.

Among the others in his group are Ferrovius (the studly Jeff Irving), a recent Christian convert, who is in a personal torment between his natural violent inclinations and his newly found piousness, and Lavinia (lovely Julia Course), a convert to whom a Roman captain (kindly Kyle Blair) is attracted.

The Christians are sent to the arena to be eaten by lions or killed by the gladiator.  When Androcles is sent in, he is confronted by the same lion from whose paw he had taken out the splinter.  Instead of killing Androcles, the appreciative lion befriends him.  

Androcles is not the only one who is saved. Ferrovius throws off his religious mantel and kills all the gladiators, is offered a position in the Pretorian Guard, and the rest of the Christians are released because of his bravery, and, of course, Androcles and his friendly lion dance around the arena to the delight of all.

When the Emperor enters the arena the lion attacks him.  Androcles asks him to save the Emperor.  The lion does so.  The Emperor then declares that the siege of the Christians over and Androcles and the lion depart together.

Sounds like morbid tale.  No!  In the hands of the creative direction of Tim Carroll, the Shaw’s new Artistic Director, the production is delightful. 

Carroll states in his program notes, “You are about to see a show made with love and respect for the material, but with a complete absence of reverence.” 

Using his newly declared request for a more inclusive method of directing and staging plays, which has been embraced by the staff, the Lion is played by a randomly picked member of the audience (with on-stage coaching by the cast), Stories about those in attendance are shared by cast members who spent a long period before the opening “lights up” with those in attendance, and personal stories are shared by cast members based on colored balls being thrown on stage by audience members. 

Each ball, which had been distributed to viewers by cast members, has been assigned a specific task.   A cane taken from a woman in the first row of the audience becomes a major prop, money is taken from a gentleman as a “donation to the actor’s fund.”   And, so on and so on, building on the concept of inclusion and the delight of the audience.

The flexibility of the production is well-illustrated by a note in the program stating, “Due to the nature of this production, the running time is approximately 1 hour and 55 minutes to 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.”

Capsule judgement:  The Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion” is a total delight while leaving no doubt of the writer’s negative views about organized religion and oppressive politics.  The entire production is free of pretense, is audience centered, fresh, and a must see for anyone interested in experiencing inclusive theatre at is finest.  Of the 2017 season’s shows, this is probably my favorite!

For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. 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.

Creative “Me and My Girl” delights at Shaw Festival


Though America is credited with developing modern musical theater, productions that have a story-line and incorporate dance and song into the format, there is one aspect of the genre which the British do much better…the musical farce.  Yes, shows like “Me and My Girl,” in which slapstick, double-takes, physical exaggeration and the ridiculous hold sway tend to be delightful in the hands of the Brits and Canadians due to their long history of music hall theater in which broad exaggeration and farce hold supreme.

Scripts in which class is taken into consideration is also where the British shine.  In contrast to supposedly classless America, Britain is traditionally class driven.  Therefore, many British plays and musicals mock the British caste system.  Whether it’s “My Fair Lady,” “By Jeeves,” “Half a Six Pence” “Oliver,” or “Me and My Girl,” class plays a roll.

To grasp the underlying premise of “Me and My Girl,” the British class system has to be understood.  In contrast to the caste system in other European countries, the British system is somewhat more flexible.  A person may rise through the order by getting wealthy, being knighted or being revealed as a member of the exclusive group through a quirk of parentage, in contrast to the “you have to be born into this position, no exceptions.”

In “Me and My Gal,” Bill Snibson, the central character in the L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber (book and lyrics) set to Noel Gay’s music, is an uninhibited cockney from Lambeth, which is a dense industrial, commercial, residential, low-level area of London, noted for its unique language patterns, which includes using slang and making up rhymes while speaking.

The story takes place in the late 1930s and tells the tale of the unrefined cockney, Bill (Michael Therriault), who learns that he is the heir to the Earl of Hareford.  Yes, he is now a wealthy titled member of the upper class.  That is, if he gets the approval of the Earl’s solicitor, Sir John Tremayne (Ric Reid), and Bill’s uptight Aunt Maria, the Duchess of Dene (Sharry Flett).  Not only must Bill change his language and actions, but must rid himself of his long time love, Sally (Kristi Frank).

As happens in all farce, after all sorts of ridiculous complications, as in all British fairytales, all’s well that ends well as Bill and Sally are finally brought together as a proper gent and his lady.

Highlight scenes include the coming to life of the portraits of Bill’s ancestors, Sally being whisked off to a speech professor (think Henry Higgins from “Pygmalion”), the show stopping “Preparation Fugue” and the dynamic “The Lambeth Walk,” a dance craze which was highlighted in a story in the “London Times” of October, 1938 with the statement, “While dictators rant and statesman talk, all Europe dances to the Lambeth Walk.”

The Shaw production, under the creative, dynamic direction of Ashlie Corcoran is a laugh-centric, fun experience.  Corcoran, who has as the deft ability to create farcical, uninhibited scenes, is ably assisted by choreographer Parker Esse, who knows how to stage dance routines, especially creative tap numbers.

The cast is universally outstanding, “not a wreck in the peck.”

Though it is generally understood that the original script was written to star Lupino Lane, a 1930’s London theater favorite, who was a singer-comedian known for his acrobatic abilities, it would be hard to believe that anyone could be better in the role of Bill than The Shaw’s Therriault.  The mighty-mite, a diminutive version of famous Danny Kay, is a four-talent star.  He can sing, act, dance and create physical farce with the best of them.   Therriault is a dynamo, who grabs and holds the audience’s attention in every appearance.  His “Leaning on a Lamp Post” was charismatic and his prat falls superb.

Kristi Frank is character-perfect as Sally.  Therriault and Frank’s renditions of “Me and My Gal” and “Hold My Hand” were charming, as was her “Once You Lose Your Heart.”

Capsule judgment:  It’s impossible to sit in the audience and not be carried away with The Shaw’s “Me and My Girl.”  It is a charming, dynamic, fun-filled must see-production.
For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. 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.

A Clevelander’s view of the Shaw Festival—2017



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

  

The Shaw, as Canadians refer to it, is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries and modern plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  



Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to Niagara-on-the-Lake to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.  You can even play golf and go on a rapid ride on the Niagara River.

As I walked down the main street in a t-shirt emblazoned with, “I liked Cleveland even before it was cool,” I was greeted with many “Go Cavs,” “Go Tribe” and “great shirt.”  I was even stopped by a couple from Detroit who were going to stop in CLE on the way home and wanted a list of places
and restaurants to visit.  Gee, I should get a job at Destination Cleveland.

It’s an especially good year to go, as I found out on my recent visit.   The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency (as of early August, $1 American=$1.24 Canadian).  And, this season’s theater offerings are excellent.

New Artistic Director Tim Carroll has instituted an inclusion policy.  Patrons are met by eager volunteers at each venue. Before each show a member of the cast comes out and introduces himself/herself.  For one show, Carroll himself was our host. 

In many of the productions, members of the audience are involved in the staging through interactions with the cast beforehand or actually coming on stage to be part of the goings-on.   The lion in “Androcles and the Lion” was played by a young lady who indicated she had always wanted to be on stage, but never had the chance.  The children of audience members were involved in “Wilde Plays.” 

The involvement worked well in many shows but using it in all productions is probably not a good idea.  It was a major distraction in staging of “The Madness of George III.”

If you are planning on going to the prettiest little town in Canada, it’s a good idea to make both theater and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. 


Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street), Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton St.). 


Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows: (To read the entire review of any of these go to:  http://www.royberko.info/

Me and My Girl” -- It’s impossible to sit in the audience and not be carried away with The Shaw’s “Me and My Girl.”  It is a charming, dynamic, fun-filled must see-production. (runs through October 15)
 

Saint Joan” --  Under the direction of Tim Carroll, Saint Joan,is a masterful piece of theater.  The production is clear in its intent and purpose and compels the audience to be a part of history.  Bravo! (runs through October 15)

Androcles and the Lion” -- The Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion” is a total delight while leaving no doubt of the writer’s negative views about organized religion and oppressive politics.  The entire production is free of pretense, is audience centered, fresh, and a must see for anyone interested in experiencing inclusive theater at is finest.  Of the 2017 season’s shows, this is probably my favorite! (runs through October 7)


Wilde Tales” -- Christine Brubaker’s direction is creative, the casts are excellent, and the over-all effect is fun, educational and stimulating.  This is a wonderful example of children’s theater for those of all ages.  (runs through October 7)


The Madness of George III” -- In spite of some questionable directorial decisions, “The Madness of George III” is a play well worth seeing.  The script provides a fascinating view of a historical figure not often exposed to the public and Tom McCamus gives a tour de force performance in the lead role.  (Runs through October 15)

Shows I didn’t see because they were in previews or haven’t opened, but are part of the season are: “Dracula” (through October 14), “1837:  The Farmer’s Revolt” (through October 8), “An Octoroon” (through October 14), “Middletown,” (through September 10), “1979” (October 1-14).
 


For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. 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 theater! 

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.