Drama Club: I Shaw the Sign
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Drama Club: I Shaw the Sign

Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.

Photos taken from the Shaw Festival website.

The sun is shining, the blossoms are out, and snow is all but a distant memory. It’s officially day-trip season! And while slot-junkies and wax museum enthusiasts may find themselves drawn to the siren song of Niagara Falls, we suggest you might also consider its more demure cousin, Niagara-on-the-Lake, home of the well-loved Shaw Festival. While slightly beyond the reaches of the TTC, many Torontonians rent a car or hop a bus to this quaint little burg to catch a play, have some tea, and maybe visit that jam store.
In the final edition of our three-part Rep-Theatre Round-Up, we take a peek at the Shaw’s current season and try to separate the must-sees from the skippables.
After the fold, Torontoist’s Shavian two cents, plus more theatre news and reviews.

Is Your Head Shavian?

Photos taken from the Shaw Festival website.

You could be forgiven for calling it the Coward Festival this year, which isn’t a dig at the fest’s lack of bravery, but an observation that while this year it boasts only two Shavian pieces, there an astonishing ten written by sharp-witted dandy Noël Coward. It’s all part of Coward’s Tonight at 8:30 plays, a cycle of ten shorter works seldom performed in its entirety. On three separate occasions, audience members will be able to see a marathon edition, with all ten plays running back-to-back-to-etc. Wisely, they have realized that such an event is more dry wit and smoking jackets than many people can stand in one sitting, and the plays have been split into four chunks that can be seen separately. An evening called Brief Encounters has been running for about a month and features the plays Still Life, We Were Dancing, and Hands Across the Sea, and it is directed by festival Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell. Ways of the Heart opens in July at the Court House Theatre, featuring the plays The Astonished Heart, The Family Album, and Ways and Means. Play, Orchestra, Play opens next month at the Royal George Theatre and features Red Peppers, Fumed Oak, and Shadow Play. Finally, the fantastic Kate Lynch directs the only Coward piece to be shown unaccompanied, The Star Chamber, also opening next month at the Royal George as a lunchtime special.
If Coward ain’t your cup of tea, you might try Michel Tremblay’s Albertine in Five Times, a play in which the Quebecois playwright pits his favourite clinically depressed heroine against herself: different actors play Albertine at ages 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70. It opens next month at the Court House Theatre. Or if you’re more of an O’Neill fan, the Shaw borrows Soulpepper’s Joseph Ziegler to direct his classic, A Moon for the Misbegotten, which opened in the same theatre last month. Also of interest (if due to the creepy promotional picture alone) is The Entertainer, which opens at the Studio Theatre in July. Theatre veteran Benedict Campbell plays musical hall performer Archie Rice, but life isn’t a song in this searing look at post-war England.
For more light-hearted fare, there’s comedy Born Yesterday, which opened last week at the Festival Theatre, which is all about the dangers of educating women. It was also turned into a Melanie Griffith film in 1993, and what could be a more ringing endorsement than that? There’s also the beloved Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George, which has already been running for a month at the Royal George Theatre.
Finally, if you’d actually like to see something by George Bernard Shaw, the festival gives you two options. First, there’s In Good King Charles’s Golden Days, directed by the talented Eda Holmes, which is the master playwright’s attempt at Restoration Comedy. And lastly, The Devil’s Disciple opens next month at the Festival Theatre. For this show, Shaw teams up once again with Polish director Tadeusz Bradecki, who helmed their recent phenomenal production of Brecht’s Happy End.

On Stage This Week

Ten Foot Pole Productions tries not to drop the ball. Photo by Jenna Wakani.

Ten Foot Pole Productions‘ “Show Me Yours Series” continues this week, including The Sputniks, Giant Invisible Robot, and Balls! Torontoist didn’t catch the first two, but Balls!, a comedy that’s successfully toured Fringe festivals across the country, intrigued us. Bastian and Paul are childhood best friends who have always shared everything, from the same porno mags, to the same basketball hoop, to the same girlfriend. But when they start attending university, they develop something in common that neither of them expected: testicular cancer.
Actors Rob Salerno and Garret Watson tell the story by alternating between directly addressing the audience and playing scenes between their two characters. Good use is made of the show’s design, which involves a basketball hoop, scattered magazines, comic books, action figures, video games, and other items and which helps turn the Lower Ossington Theatre into an appropriately “dude” space. Both actors interact with each other well and seem very comfortable in the space. Watson in particular brings the show a lot of its humour and relatability. The script, written by Salerno, occasionally veers into After School Special territory—always a danger when you’re doing a “disease play”—but has enough heart to carry it through most of the time. The show is also a fundraiser for a couple of different cancer charities, so it should come as no surprise that it wears its didacticism on its sleeve. Still, no After School Special ever had so many filthy “your mom” jokes. It runs until May 17.
The remount of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View continues at Tarragon. Mitch and Liz are two women who have a passionate sexual encounter. Thing is, neither of them are lesbians, or even bisexual, and both believed they were being seduced by the other. Years later, they reconnect, developing an intense, and almost romantic, friendship. This crypto-queer love story is brought beautifully to life by actors Caroline Gillis and Tracy Wright, both of whom have different, unusual energies that complement each other in a very appealing way. The very first beat of the play is intentionally slow, to the point of tedium. It’s a strange choice, and a funny way to kick off a show. However, once the story starts going, and the actors start talking to each other, it’s hard not to go along with them. It plays until May 24.
CanStage’s production of Doubt, a Parable continues at the Bluma Appel. And yes, it is the inspiration for that movie. It plays until May 30.
Soulpepper’s top-notch production of Glengarry Glen Ross continues at the Young Centre. David Mamet’s expletive-filled play about a very angry (and very macho) group of real estate agents all competing to save their jobs is brought brilliantly to life through a combination of a cast that includes Eric Peterson, Peter Donaldson, Jordan Pettle, William Webster, and Albert Schultz, and Ken MacDonald’s elegant and fuctional set design. One of Soulpepper’s strongest shows in recent memory, Glengarry runs until May 19.
Jonathan Garfinkle’s House of Many Tongues continues at Tarragon. A magical-realist take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it runs until June 3.
I, Claudia continues at the Young Centre until May 23. It tells the story of a young girl trying to cope with her parents’ recent divorce, but what makes this show different than your typical pre-teen melodrama is that Thomson portrays Claudia while wearing a big, white latex mask. As well as the titular teen heroine, Thomson also plays Claudia’s grandfather, a bird enthusiast with a sweet-tooth; Drachman, the immigrant custodian at her middle school who was once a respected theatre director in his native “Bulgonia”; and Leslie, the “other woman” her father is about to marry—each with their own unique mask. Thomson skips back and forth between these four characters in a virtuosic performance that brings a laugh to your belly and a tear to your eye.