KW and Beyond
by Irena Wandschneider
On summer weekends Niagara-on-the-Lake is vibrating with tourists both local and foreign. You can hear many languages, some easy to identify, some not. The scare of SARS reduces tourism, as I was told, by 20%, but this seems not to reflect on the crowds walking along Picton and Queen Streets. This small town has improved each year I visited, matured and is a jewel with its lovingly restored houses, manicured gardens and care given to details. Flower baskets are hanging on the lampposts, flowerbeds blossoming in a rainbow of colours along the sidewalks and ice cream offered to please most discerning tastes. And there are the theatres, of course.
"Blood Relations" by Sharon Pollock
The program starts with the statement describing "blood relations – family – the people from whom you inherit things like your last name, blue eyes, red hair, stubbornness, money". The story is of Lizzie Borden and her alleged murder of her father and stepmother. The murder occurred in Massachusetts in 1892 and was a source of folklore tales and songs. She was acquitted after a 14-day trial by a jury of her peers, who could not accept the notion, that a woman could viciously murder her father and stepmother who raised her, without accepting fears that ANY WOMAN - their own daughters, perhaps - would be capable of doing such a deed. In order to keep their own concept of women being soft, agreeable, loving, and dependent on their families, they had to reject the notion of Lizzie’s guilt and entertain a rather fantastic idea of a random murder by a vagabond. The unease remained and in the eyes of public opinion Lizzie never regained peace. The story fascinated generations and gave birth to many books.
"Blood Relations", a play by Sharon Pollock, premiered in the current version in Edmonton in 1980. It is a study in psychological motivations, the state of mind of Lizzie as it could have been at the time of the murder. She was 34, an old maid at her time, dependent on the goodwill and support of her father and - in future - on her stepmother. The writer presents her as an intelligent woman craving for some independence and recognition. Two actresses - Laurie Paton and Jane Perry - alternate their roles as Lizzie, the maid Bridget residing in the household at the time, and The Actress. Both present the development of the emotions and gradual determination of Lizzie Borden with absolute excellence. In the final moments they make the audience almost an accomplice in the decision. Or not? After all, Lizzie Borden was acquitted and never admitted if she did or didn’t.
Excellent play, superb acting, again great attention to detail in costumes, settings and props. Directed by Eda Holmes.
"Widower’ s House" by Bernard Shaw
He wrote a series of Plays Unpleasant: "Mrs. Warren’s Profession"," The Philander" and "Widower’s House". They were not intended to entertain or amuse, they were intended to disturb. The issue in this play is public housing in England in Victorian times, the state of the slums of London and who the people, who owned, managed and benefited from them. There are no disgusting details or brutal scenes – just the issues affecting the lives of the very comfortable middle class. The protagonists are the landlord, his daughter and a young doctor getting interested in the landlord’s daughter. In Victorian England "getting interested" meant instant love and the prospects of matrimony. The young and naïve doctor is perturbed by the sources of income his future father-in-law has as the slum-landlord. Naturally, he feels it is immoral and dirty. Very quickly it is discovered that he himself derives an income from the mortgages on the same slums and cannot afford to disassociate himself from it. After all he needs an income. The moral principles are rather fragile.
The play is interesting; regrettably it offers no solutions or conclusions. Considering the time distance I am not sure there were any at hand. Also the acting did not bring the play or the social issues forward, they remained the Victorian era problems. After all there are no slums like the London slums from the end of the XIX century anywhere we can see. Somehow it is a historical play of the historical social housing problem. The play was directed by Joseph Ziegler, the beautiful setting done by Christina Poddubiuk. Patrick Galligan as Cokane and Peter Millard as Lickcheese are the highlight actors of the play. Michael Querin filled the central role of Sartorius usually performed by Jim Mezon at the performance I attended. Maybe this made the difference.
From the audience I heard that "The Coronation Voyage" is excellent and that tickets for "Afterplay", a little lunch production what-if based on Chechov "Three Sisters" and "Uncle Vanya" were selling well. Check out www.shawfest.com/about/about.html for details.
Overall, the small Ontario town with its pleasures – I don’t have the space to comment on restaurants and B&Bs - is a wonderful destination for a weekend drive with a choice of theatres to boot!
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