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JANE ENKIN'S REVIEW OF SHAWFEST PLAYS

Jane Enkin, January 28, 2012

Village Wooing
Village Wooing is about a woman, “A” and a man “Z”. Well chosen, minimal costumes and props, and a couple of sweet old-fashioned songs, show the time and place perfectly without a set. The actors move a few wooden chairs around, and Eric Lesage's art installation is the intriguing backdrop. The characters have radically different accents and delivery – essential in a British play that deals so much with class and geography.

The Zone41 production, directed by Krista Jackson, makes the most of the very funny script. There really was non-stop laughter in the theatre. It felt as though we all had a brisk splash in the lake and came up for air refreshed. There is more to this play than a situation comedy with clever lines, though. The characters concern themselves with identity – discovering, redefining, creating and playing at a sense of self. The woman is fairly steady, and delves deeper into who she is and what she wants. The man circles around her, learning about her and about himself. He sees himself as a gentleman, a cynic, a loner. By the play’s end, his most important self-perception is as poet – not as a writer of poems, but someone who sees and feels in poetry. Near the end of the play, he bursts out in a monologue that echoes Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). He lists the many things that gratify each of his senses, speaks of growing tired and jaded, then finds himself discovering something finer beyond it all.

Graham Ashmore and Tracy Penner are bright, sensual, charming and terrifically funny performers.

I don’t know why the company chose to stage the play in a small venue with only 20 appreciative audience members at a time. It did let us all enjoy the wonderful performances close up. Time to explore Eric Lesage’s detailed art installation afterwards was a bonus. Lesage weaves strips cut from old books into a surprising variety of textures and tones of cream and grey. The art exhibit runs until February 19.

Great Catherine and Annajanska, The Bolshevik Empress

Great Catherine is a delicious farce, a comedy of pomp and pratfalls. The large company looked like they were having the time of their lives, swanking about in elaborate hairstyles and lavish costumes by Robert Butler, winking to the audience, and fighting and flirting with one another.

The play opens with the hard-drinking, effusive Prince Patiomkin and his niece squabbling. An English soldier bearing a message to the Empress comes to request a royal audience. Much is made of the proper, overstated dignity of the British and the cozy, over-the-top expressiveness of the Russians, who embrace freely and call everyone darling or little mother and little father. When the British gentleman realizes he is being set up as a love interest for the Empress, he attempts to escape the palace without meeting her, although he indulges in some happy vanity. Of course, she does get to see him, briefly toys with him, tortures him by tickling him with her toe, and at last graciously restores him to his fiancee. Ladies in waiting, the Prince and his niece, and any soldiers and servants nearby join in the action.

All the performances are fun. Joe Stratton is an intimidating, sweet bear of a man as the larger-than-life Prince Patiomkin. Special delight comes from Rhonda Kennedy Rogers as Catherine the Great. German-born not Russian, as she often insists everyone understand, she gives herself the pleasure of being as effusive as her subjects whenever she likes. Rogers looks like she's having so much fun, even when she's angry or indignant, she gives the impression always of having just popped a bonbon into her mouth.

Annajanska, Shoestring Players companion piece to Great Catherine, is also a comedy, but a more puzzling one. An imagined Eastern European country, in the throes of socialist revolution, is over-run by factions each claiming to be in power. The characters are military bureaucrats, attempting to keep their heads above water, all the while not-so-secretly nursing their loyalty to the toppled royal dynasty. Annajanska enters, a royal princess who has taken on the red banner of the revolution, a woman who enjoys a strong taste for power herself.

I found it impossible to fathom Shaw's opinions, often so transparent in his plays. He was a committed socialist, but in this play everyone comes in for teasing, no one is a hero or villain.

There are pleasant comic performances by all. Most assured is Jennifer Gottwald as the Grand Duchess Annajanska, striding on stage in heavy furs and dramatic Russian hat. Peeping out from all that fur, her white face in intense make-up, flashing dark eyes and powerful voice help to give her a commanding presence.


Queen of My Heart by Talia Pura

Adapted from the Correspondence between Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbel

Queen of My Heart is one of two original plays by local playwrights in ShawFest concerning Shaw's love life. Talia Pura succeeds in building two interesting portraits entirely from the letters exchanged by Shaw and the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Shaw and Mrs. Campbell wrote copiously, even at times when they saw each other daily. They responded so directly to one another's letters that Pura is able to create dialogue out of the material at hand

As the play opens, the characters are each in their own homes – Shaw at his desk, the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell on her chaise-longue. One recites a letter out loud, the other listens. I loved watching actor/playwright Talia Pura absorb Brian Richardson's lavish praise, smiling like a contented cat.

For a long time, as the characters rose and walked about, each in their own space, the suspense built – would they eventually be in the same room?

They do get together, (Shaw visiting Mrs. Campbell's room), and what began as a professional relationship becomes more emotional, then sensual, and at last erotic. Richardson and Pura sustain brisk dialogue, epigrams, and squabbles, even while they embrace.

For a wh

 
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