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A Clevelander’s view of the Shaw Festival—2015

Roy Berko


Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, states, “I have always found that theatre is at its best when the audience spans several generations – a guarantee that the story being told on stage is being taken in and reacted to in a variety of ways, enriching the experience for all.”


Maxwell’s belief is well-developed in the Shaw Festival’s 2015 season.  “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a magical adventure for people of all ages.  “The Lady from the Sea,” invites the serious mature theater-goer to revel in one of the first realistic plays ever written.  Tony Kuschner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” is a provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  And the list goes on.


The  Shaw is one of two major Canadian theatre celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional, high quality venues.

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries,  and contemporary plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.

Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to “The Shaw,” as it is called by locals, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.

   You can even play golf and go on a rapid ride on the Niagara River.


It’s an especially good year to go, as I found out on my recent visit.   The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency, making the trip, at the time I went, about one-quarter lower than might be.  And, this season’s offerings are generally excellent.


It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  For information on other B&Bs go to

There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street).

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows:


“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures”runs through October 10–Director Eda Holmes has honed “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” into a  well acted, well staged production that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  This is a thinking person’s play, not aimed at the “I go to the theatre to have a good time and get away from my troubles and that of others” crowd.  (Be aware that it is a 4-hour show.)


“Light Up The Sky”–runs through October 11–Recognizing that at its best, the theatre can elevate and maybe even change the beliefs of an audience, “Light Up The Sky” is filled with farcical slapstick, ironic comedy, great character sketches, and funny twists and turns.  As a script it is moving as well as funny and to add to the mix, it gets a superlative production at The Shaw.


“Peter and the Starcatcher”—runs through November 1–“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a delightful fantasy of imagination and  growing up that gets a farcical, creative and wonderfully enjoyable production under the direction of Jackie Maxwell and scenic design by Judith Bowden.  It’s  a must see for anyone, child or adult, who can turn themselves over to experiencing the wonderment of imagination.


Sweet Charity”—runs through October 31– Most of the audience, who may be unaware of the style of Bob Fosse, of the brash New York attitude needed for shows like “Sweet Charity” and “Guys and Dolls,” will probably find the Shaw production a source of entertainment. For those in the “know,” the production is just too nice, too bland, lacking in “cheek.”


“The Divine”—runs through October 11–“The Divine” is a well-constructed and compelling play that gets a first rate production.  The cast is universally strong, the technical aspects well-conceived, the pacing attentio- grabbing and holding, which adds up to a must see, standing ovation, theatrical experience.


“The Lady from the Sea”—runs through September 13–“The Lady from the Sea” gets an extremely strong production at The Shaw.  For those who like serious thinking person’s theater, and are interested in seeing a show that is a forerunner of the  modern day contemporary realistic play, the staging is definitely worth seeing.


“You Never Can Tell”—runs through October 25–“You Never Can Tell” is a disappointing production which spends way too much time begging for laughs and too little time developing the social messages that Shaw alludes to in the script. Those who are interested in laughing at ridiculous will probably enjoy the show.  Those interested in fidelity to the intent and purpose of the author will be less than delighted.


“The Twelve-Pound Look”—runs through September 12–“The Twelve Pound Look” is a perfect device to prove that with a focused purpose and a clear outline, it doesn’t need to take hours to make a statement.  The meaningful script gets a delightful and well conceived production.  What a lovely way to spend a  35-minute lunch break.