This year's edition of the Master Playwright Festival, ShawFest, is
heading into its final weekend... and unfortunately, the best
productions haven't been saved for last. Here's what's on this weekend:
Major Barbara (Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre Society)
Mennonite Theatre Society have set the bar high by tackling one of
Shaw's best-known, and most important, plays. But director Alfred
Wiebe's uneven production ultimately disappoints.
Written in 1905, the central conflict in Major Barbara
between Andrew Undershaft - munitions manufacturer and war profiteer -
and his daughter Barabara, a major in the Salvation Army - raises some
still-poignant questions. What is power? What is morality? And can the
two successfully be married?
These questions are approached in
one of Shaw's wordiest plays. It runs about three hours here, but with
better pacing, could easily run closer to the 150 minute run time listed
in the ShawFest program.
There are things to like about the
production - in the lead roles of Barbara and Andrew Undershaft, Ali
Tataryn and Jeff Madden deliver credible performances (although Madden
showed some shakiness with lines on opening night). There are some
standouts in the 13-person supporting cast - Monica Reis as the
Salvation Army general Mrs. Baines and Adam Hurtig as the foppish
Charles "Cholly" Lomax don't get as much stage time as they deserve.
It's also stylishly designed by Tom Monteyne and Judy Danchura.
there are too many other performances that don't hit the mark they need
to (particularly in the play's second act, set in a Salvation Army
shelter, where there's not a believable cockney accent to be found).
a point near the end of the third act - a seemingly endless succession
of long speeches - where Andrew Undershaft quips, "It's getting late and
we all want to go home." It's a sentiment likely shared by much of the
audience by that point.
Augustus Does His Bit (Merlyn Productions)
Elizabeth Whitbread as The Lady, Tim Beaudry as The Clerk and Mitch Krohn as Augustus, in "Augustus Does His Bit" (Merlyn Productions)
Though dated now, there's still plenty of sharp Shavian wit in this 1917 satire of military ineptitude, but Merlyn Productions' game attempt doesn't capitalize on it.
Lord Augustus Highcastle (Mitch Krohn) is doing his best to help Britain win the First World War -- provided it doesn't get in the way of demonstrating his own importance. Krohn certainly looks the part of the "obstructively fussy" and "disastrous" officer (as Shaw described such military men in the play's introduction -- unnecessarily performed at the beginning of the show by director John Chase). And he finds some grin-inducing moments with the Monty Python-esque absurdity of Augustus' oblivious incompetence.
But Augustus is really a caricature -- the comic heart of the piece (and the character who gets all the best lines) is his gloomy secretary Beamish. But Tim Beaudry plays him too stiffly, missing the precise comic timing necessary to make the jokes work. Indeed, the pacing throughout Augustus
..., which runs near an hour with the introduction, needs to be tightened considerably.
Comedy may not all be in the timing, but enough of it rests there that poor pacing can sink a potentially amusing show -- and Augustus
is sunk by it here.How He Lied to Her Husband
This slight 1904 romantic-triangle comedy is not the finest of Shaw's plays on offer at the festival. But performances that just aren't strong enough to carry what there is in the script don't help Resonator Theatrical's production.
The half-hour comedy centres around the love-struck poet Henry (Daniel Pop), his muse Aurora (Adrianne Winfield), her not-terribly-jealous husband (Dennis Sinclair), and the fallout of the husband's discovery of Henry's love poems for Aurora. There are some decent quips in Shaw's script, but the cast here is inexperienced - and it shows. Pop's Henry needs to be bigger and more flighty, Winfield's pragmatic Aurora more in charge, and Sinclair's husband clearer in his motivations. As with Augustus Does His Bit
, much of Shaw's comedy is in the timing, and it's off here too - the pacing in director Rob Brown's production needs to be snappier to pull off the comedy.
But there also needs to be a dramatic tension at the centre of this piece - how will Henry and Aurora resolve their predicament? What will the husband do? Unfortunately, there's just not enough going on here to engage the audience in those questions. In the end, I simply didn't much care how he lied to her husband.
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer