The party keeps going at the Shaw Festival’s opening week of its 50th anniversary season. And spirits are high! From Captain Shotover’s “seventh degree of concentration” (a.k.a. rum) through Brick’s over indulgence with highballs, to last night’s Irish whisky and port (the former keeping visiting actors and the Seaside Hotel’s proprietor from—metaphorically—drinking the common folks’ water) there’s been cheers all around.
For her first turn in the director’s chair in 2011, Jackie Maxwell opted to bring playwright Lennox Robinson’s (1886-1958) wit and wisdom to Canada. There are lots of laughs (while some people play sports or poker to keep themselves amused, he prefers name that writer: “Sounds like: cold in your head” = Chekhov—kaboom) and insights (the delight, occasional danger of seeing oneself on stage leading to personal drama after curtain), even as much of the writing consists of isolated sketches at the expense carefully intertwined scenes.
As with Heartbreak House, the star is most certainly the ensemble. Running the hotel, Mary Haney is at her dotty best playing Lizzie Twohig; brother John is brought to straight-up life by Ric Reid (who else could get a laugh from “merely” holding his own hat?); largely teetotalling wife Annie is the resort’s fashion queen—a dress-aholic, artfully balancing hubby’s penchant for unmixed drams—thanks to Donna Belleville’s sense of style; as their son Eddie, Craig Pike seems equally hapless at pining desperately for the visiting accountant (Julia Course, a no-sayer of the highest rank) or ending his love-starved life in the deep, until the two situations intersect to resolve each other (only in the theatre …); chambermaid Helena has an able proponent in Maggie Blake as she determinedly tries to find her own special man; bootblack Michael is well-served by Andrew Bunker’s stoicism (hardly no one calls him by his real name, Aloysius) and steals a scene of his own, auditioning to find a place on the roster of the visiting De La Mare (most certainly not De La Mer) Repertory Company.
Bringing high art (the works of Ibsen, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Strindberg, replacing the usual cheesy comedies and circus acts) to fictional Inish are thespian diva extraordinaire Constance Constantia (Corrine Koslo, a delightfully over-the-top combination of movement and delivery) and her booming leading man (on and off the stage), Hector de la Mare (Thom Marriott is at one with his character’s outward bravura and inner fear of failing to sign the next contract).
Maxwell’s affection for the work is constantly evident in the cast’s enthusiasm, pacing and infectious sense of fun. Designer William Schmuck has captured the look (the glowing, ignored switchboard a multipurpose touch) and feel of the holiday hotel. Managing to keep the rain going throughout Act II was so believable that the soggy peninsula patrons could have been excused if they thought the Court House Theatre’s roof had sprung a leak.
Here’s to more from Maxwell/Robinson. With a full week of high drama and dry comedy leading up to the grand musical finale, a tasty sorbet such as Drama at Inish (“An exaggeration in three acts”) is just the ticket for those who don’t adhere to the notion that “Plays … are only a way of passing an evening.” JWR