Monday, October 11, 2010

Shavian trick or treats

As Barbra Streisand couldn't be bribed to sing, Clevelanders who need Clevelanders all head to the Shaw Festival. For it is just impossible to roam this haven of expertly crafted fudge and theater in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, without bumping into some dimly recalled book-club or locker-room compatriot. Conventional souls visualize strolling the aisles of the Shaw's three theaters in their seersucker shorts, fresh from their Fourth of July frolics. But those with an imagination should consider broadening their theatrical horizons by heading to this paradise in their fall trick-or-treat cashmeres. After all, you have the rest of October to experience Jimmy Stewart's rabbit-loving Elwood P. Dodd in "Harvey" or Oscar Wilde's naughty and loquacious aristocrats in "An Ideal Husband."

Also on display is the eponymous Irish bard's "The Doctor's Dilemma." As to the dilemma, don't be nervous: this is not the Shaw that Yeats referred to as a sewing machine "that clicked and shone, but the incredible thing was that the machine smiled, smiled perpetually" - i.e. this is not the purveyor of endless, battling points of view thinly disguised as characters to drive audiences into cerebral hemorrhages. Rather, "The Doctor's Dilemma" is the great Shaw of "Pygmalion," the Shaw who delivers magnificent paradoxes, vivid characters and the romance of rhetoric spun into poetry.

Just in passing, let me tell you what you missed: a wonderful rendering of Kurt Weill's "One Touch of Venus," put together with flawless archeology to bring back to life a time when songs were precious jewels shockingly placed in plastic, burlesque-like settings. It was perhaps not commercial enough for Broadway but ecstasy for those who care about lost nuances of the past.

A personal tip: If you're looking for the embodiment of a distant, pre-World War II England, where the muffins and scones approach divinity, the landlord and lady of Duncan-Quinn House Bed & Breakfast seem to have been sent by MGM central casting to represent those endearing stiff-upper-lip couples found in a multitude of British novels, ranging from Dickens to P.G. Wodehouse. I can't advocate highly enough for increasing the charm quotient of your trip by seeking refuge here. The owners, Peter and Jane Griffiths, confirm all our "Masterpiece Theatre" longings. To reach them, call 905-468-1171.

Next year: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." See you there.

For information about the Shaw Festival, go to

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