Review: THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT At Shaw Festival

A new Edith Wharton piece to be savored. THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT plays at the Royal George Theatre of the Shaw Festival through October 15, 2023.

By: Sep. 12, 2023
Review: THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT At Shaw Festival

Unearthing a hidden gem is always intriguing- whether it be a true fossil, pirates booty, discarded musical manuscript, or perhaps a virtually unknown play. The Shaw Festival is the lucky producer who gets to produce a never before seen mystery by the celebrated author Edith Wharton. For the first time, audiences get to be mesmerized by THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT, Wharton's one and only play that was written in 1901, never produced and found in a library archives in 2016.

Best known for her novels THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, ETHAN FROME and HOUSE OF MIRTH, Wharton was a consummate author who examined women and their existence and position in society. And based on her solitary play, one wishes she had penned more. THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT probes into the story of how  a woman who marries into upper crust society may or may not be responsible for killing, or euthanizing, her husband's first wife.

Katherine Gauthier is the second wife, Kate, married to Derwent (Andre Morin).  Kate was best friend to Derwent's first wife, who was dying from a severe back injury. Kate claims to have aided in killing her with chloroform, putting her out of agonizing terminal pain. But  the physician Dr Carruthers, who provided her with the medication, now attempts to blackmail her or share her secret.

The writing unfolds in an unconventional way, meaning early on we know who the killer is, but  it becomes evident that the men are the arbiters of the Kare's truthfulness.

Patrick Galligan is the father of the dead first wife, who maintains a life devoted to guard over his only grandchild, Sylvia. Galligan shines as the overprotective grandfather who only wants what is best for his grand daughter. His regal, but stern manner was enough to raise fear in any young woman.

There are echoes of  du Maurier's REBECCA as a second wife enters the homestead to a group of suspicious friends. And of Dumas' THE LADY OF THE CAMELLIAS, as an elderly father passes judgement on a young woman, in this case one who is deemed unfit to raise a child.

Gauthier gives a triumphant performance as the woman who must convince her husband  of her innocent motives to help a dying  friend, as well as desire to be a good mother to young Sylvia.  Gauthier's  performance shows a restraint and poise that suggests a deep understanding of this tortured  woman.

Morin turns in a strong performance as Mr. Derwent, the man confused about his present wife's tale. He becomes unlikeable as his disregard for Kate's plight is overshadowed by his own personal career.

Tara Rosling as Lady Uske casts a dark shadow as the well-to-do family friend who tries set Kate on a path towards accepting her fate, for the good of her husband. It's quite clear that Uske is cut from an old cloth, where devotion to one's husband is always tantamount (unless it's your own husband).

Damien Atkins gives a gripping performance as Dr Carruthers. His anxious nature mixed with frank starvation make him desperate for food and money. His solitary scene was riveting as he detailed the events leading to the death of the first Mrs. Derwent.

A fine, large cast of supporting  players include Shaw favorite Neil Barclay as the philandering husband Lord Uske and Claire Jullien as the quiet, yet mysterious maid Wilkins. 

Stage Director Peter Hinton-Davis  has done fine work at the Shaw, breathing new life with intriguing productions to the Festival stages, including a sharp edged CABARET  and Mae West's rarely produced play, SEX. Bringing Wharton's script to life must have been an exciting challenge and along with set and costume designer Gillian Gallow, the production is eerily dark and gloomy. The set is classical but all monochromatic black, with a halo light hanging center stage. Ingenious use of video designs by Haui have cameras discretely place around the stage, and at any dramatic moment a character's face is projected live upon the back of the set. This allows creative stage views to be incorporated into the staging, as characters are not necessarily facing outwards towards the audience.

Lighting Designer Bonnie Beecher uses the large windows to create natural yet dramatic lighting on the very dark set. The use of shadows and eerie projections gave the setting a very film noir feel

The play's last act finds Kate destitute, unwilling to live a life with a husband who does not whole heartedly believe her story. Wharton neatly provides a piece of evidence that ties up the story, but even so, the audience may or may not have their own doubts. Regardless, Kate's  resolve to exonerate her character of  wrongdoing proves stronger than any of the male characters doubts. 

THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT will hopefully be produced by many, adding a gripping title to the theatrical canon and Wharton's vast body of work.

THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT plays at the Royal George Theatre of the Shaw Festival through October 15, 2023. 


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From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, Artp... Michael Rabice">(read more about this author)


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