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|A CurtainUp Review
Toronto Summer '98 (Part 2)
By Joe Green
Topics Covered In This Report
the Shaw Festival
Lady Windermere's Fan
John Bull's Other Island
Toronto Summer '98 (Part 1)
The Shaw Festival--Review: Lady Windermere's Fan
Oscar Wilde's first play received a visually stunning production at the Shaw Festival this summer. Neither as polished nor as verbally farcical as The Importance of Being Earnest, his last and most famous play, Lady Windermere's Fan is nevertheless a fine representation of early Wildean wit. Overwrought with melodrama to a degree not found in his more sophisticated works, this Lady, under the sure hand of Festival Artistic Director Christopher Newton, mostly achieves a successful balance between the contrived catastrophe awaiting the title character and the comedic social satire that infuses the piece. The play is set in three handsome rooms on two revolving turntables designed by William Schmuck who also did the much more austere Major Barbara this season. These fluid changes of locale enhance Christina Poddubiuk's rich costumes.
The down side is in the casting of Colombe Demers who fails to bring the kind of insightful vitality to the title role that was evident her portrayal of Alice in the Kaufman and Hart farce, You Can't Take It With You. Both Ms. Demers and Ben Carlson as Lord Windermere attempt a sincerity that would allow the audience to relate more fully, but her youth and, perhaps, inexperience, and his rather stolid portrayal miss the mark.
More engaging, indeed carrying much of the show, is veteran actress Fiona Reid (in her solo 1998 Shaw appearance) as Mrs. Erlynne, the mother who long ago gave up her infant daughter ... the now grown Lady Windermere. Ms. Reid's rendering of the woman secretly befriended by the husband of that daughter is both touching and quite funny -- perhaps the real hallmark of playing Wilde's characters. Equally at home in the Wilde mode were Barry MacGregor as Mrs. Erlynne's erstwhile suitor Lord Augustus and Patricia Hamilton as the busybody and troublemaking Duchess of Berwick.
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The Shaw Festival--Review: John Bull's Other Island
John Bull's Other Island was Shaw's only major play set in the country of his birth. It was written in 1904 and his first to be premiered by the great Harley Granville Barker at the Royal Court Theatre. It opened in New York in 1905 as a part of a two-month Shaw season.
This summer's production at the Shaw Festival is the play's third appearance in Niagara-on-the-Lake (seen here earlier in 1964 and 1985). It has been directed by Jim Mezon who gave us an unforgettable Playboy of the Western World last season and who is quickly becoming one of the Festival's core of senior directors. Mezon presents an effective reading of the play on Kelly Wolf's semi-abstract set that allows for fluid transitions between scenes, moving the play forward with energy. Cameron Porteous' costumes make for a workmanlike set of well dressed characters
Set mostly in the Irish countryside, John Bull's Other Island foreshadows the playwright's use of the two bachelor, one woman triangle in Pygmalion. David Schurmann, whose Peter Shirley gave us perhaps the most effective cameo moments in an otherwise disappointing Major Barbara, is seen here as Tom Broadbent, the English businessman whose plan it is to open a resort and golf course in rural Ireland. His partner, Larry Doyle -- some 18 years absent from the Emerald Isle and thoroughly Anglicized, is played by Blair Williams (Snobby Price in Major Barbara). Both are most effective in this Shavian treatment of British dominance over the Irish that unfortunately still rings true to many today. The third point of the triangle is Nora Reilly, played by Alison Woolridge, an Irish lass who, having been spurned by Doyle 18 years earlier awaits his return. This rather flat-dimensioned character is a difficult role, but one which Ms. Woolridge manages to carry off.
The central Shavian theme of the play is that of the sophisticated English entrepreneur moving in on the rustic Celtic landowners, and it is here that the pleasure and bite of Shaw's social satire plays so well, with the two men of the love triangle also forming two points of the social triangle. As he does in Major Barbara, Shaw sets up three sides of the human condition: the man of action -- Tom Broadbent; the man of intellect -- Larry Doyle; and the poet -- defrocked priest Father Keegan so wonderfully presented by Peter Hutt who brings a sardonic and world-weary wit to the piece.
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The Shaw Festival--Review: Joy
John Galsworthy, the early 20th century British writer, winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize for Literature, and best known for his narrative trilogy, The Forsyte Saga. The lesser known Joy tells the story of a girl's growth from childlike adolescence into the stirrings of adulthood -- all in one day. Well-staged by Neil Munro and designed by Cameron Porteous this production comes as close as any might to wringing the best from this example of early 20th century psychological realism in England.
The play's dramatic centre is Joy Gwyn's transformation, and it is well delivered by Severn Thompson. Closely integrated into the dramatic fabric is Cameron Porteous' tree which dominates the Court House Theatre's modest Court House Theatre. It is from and around this tree that the action flows as Joy listens, hides, teases, advances and retreats during her two-plus hour journey.
Most fascinating to watch was the work of Sharry Flett as Molly Gwyn, Joy's mother, and Richard Binsley as Maurice Lever, Molly's lover who were much less inspiring, in Major Barbara.
The play possessed some added interest for those viewers from Canada (and the USA) who might have invested in or merely been following the real-life drama of the Bre-X gold mine scandal of some two years ago, when it was reported that the largest gold deposit in the world had been discovered in Indonesia. As it turned out, the head geologist fell or lept to his untimely death from his helicopter and the ore samples had been liberally salted causing the stock price to fall to less than a penny from its peak of over $70. In the play, Molly Gwyn's suitor faces the moral dilemma of trying to convince Joy's well named guardian, Colonel Hope, (nicely portrayed by Michael Ball),not to buy into the mining scheme or scam of which he is a part. Was the Bre-X debacle a case of life imitating art?