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Daniel Thau-Eleff

Review of "My Affair With George Bernard" by Daniel Thau-Eleff

Jane Enkin, posted Feb 9, 2012

Doreen Brownstone and Ross McMillan know how to make a staged play-reading a fully embodied, engaging work of theatre. In this debut of Winnipeg writer Daniel Thau-Eleff's new play, they created fascinating portraits of Florence Farr and George Bernard Shaw

Florence Farr, actress, novelist, and spiritualist, sits in Shaw's study and begins a seance. She explains to the audience that given the right conditions and patience, a spirit will respond to an invitation to appear. Now and then she lifts her head and casts her eyes about the room, searching for George, calling for George.

George is revealed as a vividly recalled memory. Fluidly, the play shifts back and forth between Florence's storytelling and her interactions with Shaw himself. She remembers meeting the playwright, rehearsing with him, developing a complex and loving relationship with him – with intellectual exchange, arguments, and quiet pleasure. The fact that there is no strong explanation of why they parted adds to the wistfulness of the play, as does Florence's account of their tenuous connection over the following years. The characters share delicate emotion and mutual admiration, each staunchly standing up for the other's independence.

Thau-Eleff includes some quotations from Shaw's letters, but the script is built largely of invented lines and re-imagined events. It was fun to watch the characters rehearse scenes from several of Shaw's plays – with interruptions as Shaw critiqued Florence's line-readings and Florence paused to reminisce. The effect is a seamless whole, very funny and very tender, with strong respect for both characters.

Ross McMillan played a stiff and proper George. His dry delivery earned lots of laughter, and the moments when Shaw was unsure of himself, or briefly expressive of strong feelings, were compelling.

I'll run out of words to praise Doreen Brownstone. Her voice is supple, deep and beautiful, her face tells so much with a simple glance or slight frown, her movement is graceful and energetic. She got laughs often without a word, or with a simple response to one of Shaw's many effusive outpourings. It was a treat to watch as she layered on top of her already dramatic presence the characters she acted in Shaw's plays.

Since My Affair with George Bernard is a work in progress, I'll mention two critiques. The brief snatches of song did not seem a good fit to me; I couldn't see how they added to my knowledge of Florence. There are a few didactic statements of fact in the play, some as Florence describes her position as a “New Woman”, some as the characters tell the audience about things that happened after the friendship cooled. I found these elements distracting – perhaps the information could be offered in a more personal way; otherwise I'd rather find it in an author's note in the program.

This is a lovely play, and a moving and beautiful production.


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