The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, wraps up its annual "opening week" May 27 with the openings of Noel Coward's Easy Virtue at the Festival Theatre and Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance at the Court House Theatre.
But the end of the 2000 opening week only means the beginning of a long summer and fall of shows in repertory at the festival, a popular tourist destination in the Niagara region, a half-hour downstream from Niagara Falls. Previews for the season began May 4 and performances continue to Nov. 11.
Coward's glamorous comedy, Easy Virtue, from 1925, is a revival from the 1999 season, directed by Newton and starring Goldie Semple, Patricia Hamilton, Kelli Fox (Michael J. Fox's sister) and David Schurmann. In the play, the upper-middle-class Whittaker family is shocked when the son marries an older divorcee. Newton calls the play "witty, disturbing, beautiful [and] somewhat louche." The attack on social pretensions continues to July 21.
Wilde's 1893 play, A Woman of No Importance, concerns the amoral Lord Illingworth and his encounter with a woman from his past, and her secret. Susan Ferley directs a cast that includes Jim Mezon, Mary Haney and Severn Thompson. Performances continue to Sept. 24.
The 2000 Shaw Festival officially opened May 24 with artistic director Christopher Newton's staging of Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma, followed by the musical, She Loves Me (May 25), and J.B. Priestley's Time and the Conways (May 26). *
The Shaw Festival's 11-show season is working under a new mandate in 2000. Instead of focusing on works by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, it now includes works written about the time Shaw lived (1856-1950). This allows artistic director Newton to stage such plays as a new adaptation of Lord of the Flies and a new stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf's 1928 lecture, A Room of One's Own, plus She Loves Me (1963) and Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker (1954).
Picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, is the setting for the three-venue festival. The area is a tourist destination in itself: The falls, wineries, the scenic Niagara Parkway and Niagara Gorge, the Welland Canal (allowing ships to bypass the falls) and War of 1812 sites are all nearby. The town sits on the lip of Lake Ontario and lures millions of seasonal visitors.
The season also includes:
• The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), Shaw's account of a doctor who has the power to save either a gifted, amoral artist or a general practitioner. Newton directs. Through Oct. 29.
• Lord of the Flies, adapted by Nigel Williams from the William Golding novel (1954), the story of schoolboys stranded in the South Pacific and forming their own cruel society. Neil Munro directs. Opens July 14.
• The Matchmaker (1954), Thornton Wilder's romantic American comedy that was the basis for Hello, Dolly! Newton directs. Opens Aug. 18.
Court House Theatre
• The Apple Cart (1929), Shaw's political comedy about a British king who threatens to resign and run for Parliament. Richard Greenblatt directs. Opens July 13.
• A Room of One's Own (1929), a play by Patrick Garland based on Virginia Woolf's lecture about women's historical experience in society and the struggles of Woolf herself. Micheline Chevrier directs. Opens July 15.
• Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), Luigi Pirandello's modern existential classic about characters who interrupt a play rehearsal hoping to find a reason for being. Tadeusz Bradecki directs. Opens Aug. 19.
Royal George Theatre
• Time and the Conways (1937), J.B. Priestley's play shows a young woman celebrating her birthday with family and friends, and peers into the future of the characters. Neil Munro directs. Through Oct. 28.
• She Loves Me (1963), The romantic Broadway musical comedy drawn from the same source that inspired "The Shop Around the Corner" and "You've Got Mail," has a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, with a book by Joe Masteroff. Roger Hodgman directs. Through Oct. 29.
• Still Life, the one-act by Noel Coward about a chance meeting of would-be lovers on a train platform is the basis for the 1946 film, "Brief Encounter." Director to be announced. Opens July 14.
Call (800) 511-SHAW for information, or try the web site at www.shawfest.sympatico.ca.
-- By Kenneth Jones