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The Shaw Festival @ 50

Heartbreak HouseBernard Shaw 1922 courtesy Shaw Festival
Written by George Bernard Shaw

On the Rocks
A new version of Shaw's play by Michael Healey

My Fair Lady
Music, lyrics & book by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner
based on Shaw's play Pygmalion

Since 1962, the annual Shaw Festival has consolidated its reputation as an unparalleled repertory company by presenting a dozen plays (and, more recently, musicals) by George Bernard Shaw, his contemporaries and others.

In picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of Canada's loveliest towns, the Shaw Festival is a premier summer theater destination. And its current season is crammed with must-see works, including a trio of Shaw comedies and a classic musical based on a Shaw play.

Heartbreak House, one of Shaw's supreme masterpieces, is a bitter, biting display of vitriol aimed at what the playwright perceived as Great Britain's stupidity during World War I. In his obvious allegory about ignorant, deadly behavior, Shaw creates an arresting comic drama about clueless characters who, tellingly, are reluctant to admit their own moral failings.

Christopher Newton's adroit staging brings out Shaw's keen senses of humor and irony. Thanks to the usual excellent Shaw Fest ensemble, led by Michael Ball as Captain Shotover and Benedict Campbell as Boss Mangan, Shaw's lacerating depiction of an empire in eclipse is vividly on display.

Too bad Leslie Frankish's visually ingenious but heavy-handed set pointlessly literalizes Shaw's description of the play's setting as a rotting ship. In Shaw's astonishing final act, Frankish's house "hull" makes Shaw's finely-tuned dialogue more explicitly metaphorical than deeply probing.

On the Rocks, Shaw's penultimate play, is an impenetrably dense anti-government screed with characters that are mere mouthpieces for the playwright's unapologetically leftist politics. Canadian playwright Michael Healey has streamlined the play to make the dialogue more straightforward and the motivations of the British prime minister, his associates and opponents more palatable.

While the story moves faster and more succinctly, I have doubts about flip-flopping the action so the second act becomes a flashback to what occurred previously, but I guess it's permissible to toy with lesser-known Shaw.

Joseph Ziegler's staging works well enough on Christina Poddubiuk's smart 10 Downing Street set, with the skillful comic cast giving its all to this clash between conservative capitalism and utopian socialism. It would be instructive if the Festival presented Shaw's original play, denseness and length be damned, but for now Healey's version will do.

Candida, Shaw's splendidly sophisticated chamber comedy about a minister and his wife whose relationship is complicated by the presence of an 18-year-old poet who adores her, is given an adequate if unilluminating revival by director Tadeusz Bradecki.

As Candida, Claire Jullien catches the subtle nuances of one of Shaw's most charming, independent and intelligent female characters, but she's the center of a lopsided trio. Wade Bogert-O'Brien overdoes the quirky teenage poet Marchbanks and Nigel Shawn Williams is a woefully unconvincing Reverend Morrell, whose speaking brilliance in the pulpit is at odds to his neediness at home.

An inspired musical choice this season, My Fair Lady is Lerner & Loewe's masterly adaptation of Shaw's Pygmalion about Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and her stern mentor, the arrogant linguist Henry Higgins. The staging by directors Molly Smith and Paul Sportelli is sometimes too frantic, as if they wanted to ensure their spectacle would fill the large Festival Theater stage.Book

But the show itself (with classic songs ranging from "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" to "The Rain in Spain" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face") is foolproof, and the leads are performed with animated gusto and strong, clear voices by terrific Deborah Hay and always astonishing Benedict Campbell (perhaps the most versatile of the Shaw's talented troupe). My Fair Lady remains as indisputably great as the plays by the Festival's namesake.

For those who want to take a piece of this memorable Festival home, the new coffee-table volume, The Shaw Festival: The First Fifty Years, is an indispensable trip down memory lane. Written by L.W. Conolly, the book recounts the Festival's humble origins as "Salute to Shaw" in 1962 right to the 4-stage, 12-production juggernaut it is now.

The photos of the eminent actors and actresses who have graced the Shaw's stages in the master's plays over the past half-century are worth the price of admission by themselves.

Shaw Festival
10 Queens Parade
ON L0S 1J0, Canada

Opened April 7, 2011; ends October 30, 2011

For more by Kevin Filipski, visit The Flip Side blog at


FringeNYC is 15 and in the Top 5

The 15th annual New York International Fringe FestivalThe 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) plays August 12 -
28, 2011 at more than a dozen venues in Lower Manhattan, New York City.

FringeNYC is the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with 200 of the world's best emerging theatre troupes and dance companies. Attendance has topped over 75,000 people, making FringeNYC New York City’s fifth largest cultural event (just behind New York International Auto Show, Tribeca Film Festival, New York City Marathon, and New York Comic Con).

It has been a given for well over a century that New York City is The go-to place for live theater, so a theater festival there might almost seem redundant. But there are several good reasons for this festival.

Read more: FringeNYC is 15 and in the Top 5

Woodstock Fringe 2011

The 9th annual Woodstock Fringe 2011 Festival of Theatre & Song is taking place July 30 - wftf-FSternhagenAugust 21, 2011 at the Byrdcliffe Theatre in Woodstock, New York.

Woodstock Fringe is a professional performing arts organization that develops and presents new and experimental theatrical and musical works. The Fringe serves as a home to emerging and established artists, providing a collaboration between the artists and the audience as they pursue the highest standard of live performance.

The season kicks off with a benefit and reading as well as a party. Following hors d'oeuvres and wine, distinguished multiple Tony Award winning actress Frances Sternhagen performs a reading of Andrew Johns’ play, Sisters, a comedy about families, aging, and staying present during the "September" years of our lives. Also in the cast are Greg Mullavey, Evangeline Johns and Michael Citriniti.

This year‛s plays are:

Chapter & Verse – a World Premiere by Memrie Innererarity, Obie award winner, this one-person show is about growing up in the Deep South.

American Heretic – A new comedy by Joe Raiola, MAD Magazine Senior Editor and creator of Almost Obscene. "Passionately uncensored and irreverent, Raiola wages war on the status quo -- and any holy book with more than 200 pages."

The Playwrigwftf-Byrdcliffehts Unit is a group of playwrights, composers, lyricists, book writers and actors who gather every other week to share and develop new work. The culture of the Playwrights Unit is one of community, nourishment, honor, mutual respect, and  professionalism.

This workshop is best suited to self-guided professionals in pursuit of excellence, who desire creative connection, collaboration with peers and share excitement and joy in the creative process.

Two One-Act comedies from the Playwrights Unit are:

Finding Elvis – by Mindy Pfeffer, Playwright in Residence. Two longtime friends re-kindle their friendship at Graceland, and a lonely fan of "the King" finds true love in an unexpected way. Directed by Nicola Sheara; with Noni Connor, Dana Patton, Mindy Pfeffer.

Moonbite, a Montage of Radiant Lunacy – by Ariana Johns, Playwright in Residence. "[A] playful, eccentric romp, featuring some of the denizens from the penumbra of society as they search for love and understanding...and a trip to the moon!." With Michael Bergen, Ariana Johns, Mindy Pfeffer, Chelsea Roach, Victor Truro.  

First Looks: Staged Readings of New Playswftf-JRaiola

Lies like Truth by George Wolf Reily – Two aging actors, former best friends and colleagues in the 1960s Off-Off Broadway movement, are reunited in a Manhattan old-age home and try to start an avant-garde theatre in the home.

Marker by Mel Green – The dark side of funny -- an odyssey in search of family, based on events from real life.

Like a Sack of Potatoes by Ric Siler – A gothic tale about a father and his daughters, and what he'll do to protect them.

Two by Jerry McGee:

For Better or For Worse – After 21 years, can their marriage survive Valentine’s Day?

How to Weed Your Garden – It’s Olivia’s 68th birthday party but she’s not celebrating. Her best friend has stolen her secret recipe and her husband isn’t mowing the lawn like he used to.

Other Fringe features are:wftf-HM

Goat Hill Poets – Originally a monthly salon of poets who met to critique and encourage new work, the Goat Hill Poets are all published poets and all have been featured in poetry series in the Hudson Valley area. Current members are:  Marianna Boncek, Leslie Gerber, Alison Koffler, Judith Lechner, Tara McCarthy, Guy Reed, Cheryl A. Rice.

Horowitz & Malkine – Stand-up poet Mikhail Horowitz and French guitarist Gilles Malkine return with "fugitive parody, garbled monologues, obscure songs, unsustainable skits, and theatrical ineptitude. They'll be joined in this program by several guests who, at the urging of their agents, wish to remain anonymous."

Woodstock Fringe is made possible in part by support from NYSCA, a state agency.

For more information, visit

Woodstock Fringe 2011
July 30 - August 21, 2011

Byrdcliffe Theatre
Upper Byrdcliffe Road
Woodstock, NY
fax 212-602-0061

NYC Strawberry One-Act Festival

The Riant Theatre presents the 20th annual NYC Strawberry One-Act Festival from July 28 soap- August 7, 2011 at The Hudson Guild Theater in Manhattan, New York City.

The brainchild of Artistic Director Van Dirk Fisher, the Festival is a play competition twice a year (in February and in July/August) in which the audience and the theatre's judges cast their votes to select the best play of the season. This year, 38 plays are in competition.

The Opening Night plays include:

Series A:

Press Seven by Sam Reisman
A mysterious voicemail threatens the sanity of two men.

All They Need Is Love by Jennifer Marvel
When it comes down to it - the one thing everyone wants in their life is Love.

Merry Meeting by Jacob Marx Rice
What happens when a man comes home to find his wife having sex with another man, beats that man unconscious and then sits down to have a civilized conversation.

Series B:

The Prenup by Charles Gershman
A side-splitting caricature of coupledom in which a young man’s marriage proposal unravels.

Mi Media Naranja by Rolls Andre
Featuring Rolls Andre, Kim Gainer, Jen Taher
After a night of kinky sex gone horribly wrong, a couple of swingers must re-examine their marriage.

Criminal Mischief by Ellen Orchid
He was a great boyfriend. Until his wife showed up.

Other plays this season include:

It’s Gonna Work Out Fine by Arlene Corsano
music and lyrics by Rose Marie McCoy
The only musical in the line-up, this is the inspiring, true-life story of a prolific and influential songwriter who provided hundreds of hits for the hottest rhythm and blues singers of the 1950s and ‘60s as well as for Elvis Presley, the singer who turned rhythm and blues into rock 'n' roll.

Horst and Graben at the Chateau Godot by Jeffrey Gold
Horst was waiting for his date. Then Graben arrived.

Some of the other entries are:

An Encounter with an Angel on the 42nd Street Platform While Contemplating Suicide
Written & directed by Anna Governali
Featuring Candice Goodluck, Ginger Kearns, Michael McMullan, Victory Chappotin, Michael Borne
As Hunny is sent to save a lost soul that lingers between life and death, the one she is really meant to save is herself.

Butterfly by Trish Cole
The Newtowne Players
Featuring Gloria Ranta, Missy Bell, Jessica Magno
Evocative in the spirit of M. Butterfly, Trish Cole’s Butterfly examines a mother who seeks refuge in an imaginary wildflower field when pushed to confront, from jail, the memories of her relationship with her transgender child.

Paid Off by Robert D. Argen
"Trust me, I’m a banker." Wall Street and Main Street collide in this poignant drama about a banker’s struggle to prove his moral worth to his grieving former English teacher.

Crossing Verrazano by Anthony Fusco
Three young men visiting NYC for a weekend of fun, experience an incident they will never forget. What really happened that night? Based on a true story.

Weight by Kerri Campbell Evans
3 Embryos, 2 women and 1 waiting room.

The Woman Will Get Hurt! By John Passadino
Featuring Vivian Wyrick, Vincent Compono
A man is unexpectedly brought to trial for allegedly breaking the rules of a relationship.

The Semi-Finals:
August 1 - 3
The best plays that have advanced to the Semi-Finals will be performed again.

The Wild Night:
Thursday, August 4
These plays are chosen by the Artistic Director to give them another chance to earn a spot in the Finals.

The Finals:
Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6
One play from each Semi-Finals and 1 play from each Wild Night advance to the Finals.

All the playwrights in the Festival return to judge the Finals along with the Theatre’s judges and Audience. The Playwrights‛ and the Theatre’s Judges‛ votes count for 60% of the vote.

The Award Ceremony & Performance:
Sunday, August 7
The 4 plays with the most votes from the finals perform at the Awards Show and Awards are presented to the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director & Best Play.

Several of this season’s plays will be published in the next edition of The Riant Theatre’s anthology, The Best Plays From the Strawberry One-Act Festival, Volume 8.

The Festival has served as a springboard to major roles in television, film, and theater for a number of its participants.

For more information, go to

NYC Strawberry One-Act Festival
July 28 - August 7, 2011

Hudson Guild Theater
441 W. 26th St. (betw 9th & 10 Aves.)
New York City

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