Shaw Festival 2012 season announced

by Lynn on September 20, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell, announced her 2012 season today.

Eleven productions will be presented on the Festival’s four stages.

At the Festival Theatre:

RAGTIME, the Tony Award-winning musical. Directed by Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell, the Terrence McNally/Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty musical traces the roots of 20th century America through the stories of three very different families.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY by John Guare, a blending of the 1940 movie of the same name with its original source, The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. This screwball comedy, served with a sharp dash of politics and corruption, will be directed by Ensemble member Jim Mezon.

PRESENT LAUGHTER by Noel Coward. It will be directed by Ensemble member David Schurmann.

At the Court House Theatre:

TROUBLE IN TAHITI. Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera on love and longing in American 1950’s suburbia. Ensemble member Jay Turvey makes his directorial debut.

A MAN AND SOME WOMEN by British playwright Githa Sowerby. Alisa Palmer directs Sowerby’s never-performed 1914 play of a family driven apart by money.

THE MILLIONAIRESS by George Bernard Shaw. Ensemble member Blair Williams directs Shaw’s madcap comedy.

HEDDA GABLER by Henrik Ibsen directed by Martha Henry.

At the Royal George Theatre.

MISALLIANCE by George Bernard Shaw. Eda Holmes will direct Shaw’s comedy of the laws of sexual attraction and the difficulty of fitting them into marriage.

FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS by Terence Rattigan. Kate Lynch will direct this sexy comedic romp set in the south of France.

COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA by William Inge. This domestic drama will be directed by Jackie Maxwell.

At the Studio Theatre:

HELEN’S NECKLACE by Carole Fréchette translated and adapted by John Murrell.


This is an interesting mix of solid classics and infrequently done treasures.

I always get the sense that Jackie Maxwell’s programming is thoughtful and intriguing and never takes the easy way by dumbing down the programming to put ‘bums in seats. Audiences expect a certain kind of programming and quality of production at the Shaw, and they continue to get it.

A big musical fits well in the Festival Theatre and the hope of course is that it will be a hit and make money for the Festival. Ragtime has a stirring story and a good score. I always find that the Shaw goes one step further in digging into the play/musical to reveal something new. Witness this season’s production of My Fair Lady. Director Molly Smith made it a My Fair Lady for the 21st century.

Terence Rattigan is going through a renaissance. He’s a wonderful playwright as is easily seen by the Shaw’s previous production of After the Dance.
French Without Tears is rarely don’t–I can’t remember the last time it was done even in London, Eng. so I look forward to that.

A Man and Some Women by Githa Sowerby continues the successful archaeological programming that included the Shaw’s wonderful 2004 production of Sowerby’s first full-length play Rutherford and Son and its equally terrific 2008 production of The Stepmother.

Maxwell continues to promote women directors with Eda Holmes, Martha Henry, Kate Lynch and Alisa Palmer all directing shows in the 2012 season.

It’s also heartening to see her support and promote her actors who want to stretch their abilities and direct. So Blair Williams will direct again, as will Jim Mezon. David Schurmann and Jay Turvey will be making their Shaw Directing debuts in 2012.

But it is of concern that there are only two Shaw plays for 2012, down from three this year (four if you consider My Fair Lady based on Pygmalion to be ‘by Shaw.’) As Jackie Maxwell has said, it’s difficult attracting an audience for plays by Shaw because he’s not taught in the schools. He’s rarely done elsewhere–I can attest to that. In my travels to London and the States he’s rarely done. Even in his native Ireland, he’s rarely done.

And truth to tell the present production of Heartbreak House in the Festival Theatre is doing something like 30%-40% business, good production though it is.

What do you do under these circumsatances? You decrease the number of plays by Shaw and you program them in a smaller theatre.

Maxwell has also said Shaw has ideas that are important to convey. She is certainly game to have Canadian writers put their prospective on Shaw’s later plays, problematic plays, as Michael Healy did this year with his take on On the Rocks. She will continue that trend with other Canadian playwrights tackling other late Shaw plays.

Maxwell is feisty. She seems determined not to let a somewhat confining mandate confine her vision for the festival, and has slowly expanded that mandate to include writers who deal with subjects that Shaw did.

On the whole I think the Shaw Festival offers a varied, solid mix of plays worth seeing and thinking about.

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