This isn't just any season. It's the Shaw Fest's 50th summer of presenting plays by the Irish playwright, works by his contemporaries or works related to the time in which he lives. The festival's mandate expanded in recent years to include plays by 21st-century writers who are in the tradition of Shaw's fiery brand of thinking (think Suzan-Lori Parks).
The 2011 Opening Week continues through this weekend with the openings of four additional productions: Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; the Canadian premiere of Lennox Robinson's Drama at Inish – A Comedy; Shaw's Candida; and the Lerner and Lowe musical My Fair Lady, directed by Molly Smith, artistic director of Washington, DC's Arena Stage. There are more openings scheduled through the summer.
Two major Ontario landmarks, Niagara Falls (20 minutes upstream of Niagara-on-the-Lake) and the CN Tower in Toronto, will mark the opening night of the Shaw Festival’s 50th season by taking on a golden glow. Niagara Falls will be lit amber at 9:15-9:30 PM, 10:15-10:30 PM and 11:15-11:30 PM. Across Lake Ontario, in Toronto, the CN Tower will be illuminated in gold throughout the night, beginning at dusk.
Heartbreak House began previews May 10. It plays the flagship Festival Theatre. Last seen at The Shaw in 1999, the drama of a weekend in the English countryside just before the outbreak of war, is revisited by former artistic director Christopher Newton 25 years after first directing it for the Festival stage. Shaw's play was first performed at the Shaw Festival during its third season.
Here's how the Shaw Festival characterizes the classic: "As the Western world teeters toward the tragedy of war, a young girl, her father and her older fiancée receive a seemingly innocent invitation to join Hesione Hushabye for a weekend in the English countryside. They quickly become entangled in a web of escalating events that result in unlikely unions, unwanted complications and ultimately, explosions, both metaphorical and real. A ruefully funny play, with a serious underlying message that still reverberates today…." Heartbreak House features Michael Ball as Captain Shotover, Deborah Hay as Hesione Hushabye, and Robin Evan Willis as Ellie Dunn, with Benedict Campbell, Patrick Galligan, Patricia Hamilton, Patrick McManus, Laurie Paton, William Vickers and Blair Williams.
The play continues in repertory to Oct. 7. The Shaw Festival's milestone season began April 7 and runs until Oct. 30 on four stages. The slate also includes The Admirable Crichton, Maria Severa, The President, Topdog/Underdog, When the Rain Stops Falling and a special 50th season two-day event, "The Speed of Ideas: A Theatrical Forum," featuring award-winning playwrights Tony Kushner and Suzan-Lori Parks and author and renowned theatre critic Michael Billington.
Jackie Maxwell is artistic director of the Shaw Festival. For more information on the 50th season celebrations, visit www.shawfest.com/Home/Our-50th-Season.