BWW Review: A Clevelander's View of the Shaw Festival - 2017
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
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 theater, 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.
This is 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 theatre 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 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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 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" -- "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! (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 theatre 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 online to 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.