As the Shaw Festival’s namesake continues to be pushed back into the wings (no full-length play this season), perhaps it’s time for a rebrand: “Not-quite the Shaw Festival.”
Or as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”
This twin bill of one-act plays manages to keep the artistic link to one of the world’s most articulate playwrights, but falls far short of the mark in the usual—by now expected—level of excellence.
In the opener (How He Lied to Her Husband), the expected sexual/emotional heat between eighteen-year-old He (Shawn Ahmed trying his best) and She (very thirtysomething Krystal Kiran unable to slip the yolk of mother rather than lover) was a mere flicker.
Only when Her Husband (David Adams with the best performance of the night) reached the stage in the late innings was there any hope of some memorable theatre.
Following the wee break, Kelly Wong’s wardrobe and youngish demeanour positively defied the notion that his man—Napoleon Bonaparte—had aspirations of ruling the world. Fiona Byrne was a Strange Lady indeed, providing the dramatic glue between despatches—apparently—lost, a mythical brother and witchcraft, fulfilling the intent of the role yet not imparting any magic dust into the action. Andrew Lawrie’s Lieutenant readily fell into line (“A lieutenant is a gentleman: all the rest is chance”—just so). The saving grace was Martin Happer, whose portrayal of innkeeper Giuseppe was the icing on this otherwise tasteless cake.
The magnificent pillory of all things English (“But every Englishman is born with a certain miraculous power that makes him master of the world,”) was dutifully declaimed but not nearly seared into consciousness.
As director Philip Arkin stated, “They love. And that love, however manifested, defined their desires, their needs and their hearts. As it also defines us.” If only we could feel what he meant. JWR