The Shaw Festival, which runs in several venues in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. from April to October, was founded to pay tribute to the mind-bending works and towering legacy of the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. But since its founding in 1962, the festival's mandate has grown far beyond Shaw's plays.
This season, for instance, contains only two works by Shaw. The rest draws from the disparate realms of Canadian drama and British musical theater, features stories of blood-sucking monsters and mad kings and explores contemporary American issues, from race and class to the search for meaning in a homogenous culture.
Here's what's on:
Festival Theatre, 10 Queen's Parade
"Me and My Girl," in previews April 5 to May 25; running May 26 to Oct. 15
Stephen Fry's update of this classic 1930s musical tells the story of a London peasant who struggles to leave his old life behind when he discovers that he is nobility. It features a book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber and music by Noel Gay.
"Saint Joan," in previews May 3 to 24; running May 25 to Oct. 15
The favorite Shaw play of festival artistic director Tim Carroll, this poetic and lyrical exploration of Joan of Arc's life and death contains themes of nationalism and political aspiration sure to register with contemporary audiences.
"Dracula," in previews July 8 to 27; running July 29 to Oct. 14
Adapted for the stage from Bram Stoker's novel by Liz Lochhead, this version of the classic tale of Victorian lust is directed by festival favorite Eda Holmes. It promises a journey into a world of "repressed erotic hunger" that will "leave all your senses on fire."
Court House Theatre, 26 Queen St.
"1837: The Farmers' Revolt," in previews May 7 to 25; running May 27 to Oct. 8
Considered a modern classic of Canadian theater, Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille's show tells the story of a group of disenfranchised farmers fighting for the rights to the land they tamed.
"Androcles and the Lion," in previews June 6 to 22; running June 24 to Oct. 8
Once one of Shaw's most popular plays, this tale of a Christian slave and his leonine friend will receive an unusual treatment from director Tim Carroll: Audience members will help to arrange the set pieces, play certain roles, and converse with actors during the production.
"Wilde Tales," in June 8 to 23; running June 24 to Oct. 7
A kid-friendly collection of short plays that will also appeal to adults, this program includes Oscar Wilde's short plays "The Happy Prince," "The Nightingale and the Rose," "The Remarkable Rocket" and "The Selfish Giant."
Royal George Theatre, 85 Queen St.
"The Madness of George III," in previews April 11 to May 25; running May 26 to Oct. 15
Alan Bennett's harrowing tour through the declining mind of King George III of England stars Shaw Festival veteran Tom McCamus in the title role under the direction of Kevin Bennett.
"Dancing at Lughnasa," in previews May 14 to June 22; running June 23 to Oct. 15
A roving piece of poetry as much as a stage production, Brian Friel's play is a portrait of five Irish sisters and a meditation on love and aspiration in a place where both things are a struggle.
"An Octoroon," in previews July 16 to 27; running July 28 to Oct. 14
The Shaw Festival is selling this production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins update of Dion Boucicault's virulently racist 1859 play "The Octoroon" as "the funniest and least comfortable theatre experience in years." It will be directed by Peter Hinton, who led the high-profile Shaw productions of "Alice in Wonderland," "Cabaret," "Lady Windemere's Fan" and "When the Rain Stops Falling."
Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, 10 Queen's Parade
"Middletown," in previews July 13 to 28; running July 30 to Sept. 10
In a culture where every town begins to look and feel like every town, how does the individual spirit survive? This is the question at the heart of Will Eno's play about a fictional nowhere-place full of nowhere-people striving to be somebody.
"1979," in previews July 2 to Aug. 31; running Oct. 1 to 14 in the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre.
Political power can be fleeting. Few know this better than former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, who served in the office for less than a year, from 1979 to 1980. His brief tenure is the subject of Canadian playwright Michael Healey, which plays in "unplugged" versions in various festival theaters before its short run in October.