The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., is a 50-minute drive from Buffalo. But it often feels worlds away.
Part of that feeling is thanks to the design and meticulous landscaping of the village itself, a pristine stretch of shops and businesses that seems to have been transferred in its entirety from a seaside British town.
But mostly, it has to do with the productions running on four stages through October, which this season transport audiences to Georgian England, medieval France and ancient Rome, among more contemporary destinations.
Shaw Festival tickets range in price from $25 for student matinees to $117 (in Canadian dollars) for good seats to opening night and weekend performances. Check out this page for a list of available discounts, and look here for more detail on the price range.
Below is a guide to shows running this season at the Shaw, with links to those that have been reviewed so far and descriptions for those that haven't.
"Saint Joan," through Oct. 15 in the Festival Theatre. ★★★½
From the review: "In Carroll’s minimalistic production, designed as if by Stanley Kubrick, Sara Topham renders Joan’s teenage guilelessness and naiveté to convincing effect. Compared with Tara Rosling’s equally fine performance in the same role in the Shaw Festival’s 2007, Topham brings a softer and more free-spirited touch that works better with Carroll’s refreshingly jokey approach."
"Me and My Girl," through Oct. 15 in the Festival Theatre. ★★★½
From the review: "You're not going to leave the Shaw's production of 'Me and My Girl' ruminating on the eternal problems of society or sorting out your place in the universe. But if you're open to it, you'll likely leave with a tune in your head and a spring in your step."
"1837: The Farmer's Revolt," through Oct. 8 in the Court House Theatre. ★★½
From the review: "The most attractive aspect of '1837' is its fiercely independent spirit and its refusal to hew to the old forms or expectations. But the downside of the company’s laissez-faire approach is that viewers sometimes find themselves required to follow along with didactic recitations of personalities and facts, jazzed up with 'devised theater' gimmicks that often seem as dated as wood paneling or tie-dye."
"The Madness of George III," through Oct. 15 in the Royal George Theatre. ★★★½
From the review: "The cast is ably led by Tom McCamus, whose multi-textured interpretation of George goes far beyond the theatrical flourishes the role seems to demand. He is a ham with the audience, but not overbearingly so. His idiosyncrasies are such that, through the flurry of words, you can discern flickers of his madness before its furious onset and echoes of it after it passes. He inhabits the role as he inhabits his royal vestments: with a supreme sense of belonging. Onto that confidence, he applies a thick layer of natural charm."
"Androcles and the Lion," through Oct. 8 in the Court House Theatre.
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," through Oct. 7 in the Court House Theatre. ★★★½
From the review: "Christine Brubaker directs these stories that Oscar Wilde wrote for his own children and time finds them suitable and apt for ours. And perhaps they might be 'The Happy Prince,' 'The Nightingale and the Rose,' 'The Selfish Giant' and 'The Remarkable Rocket,' life lessons, might be made mandated viewing for adults."
"Dancing at Lughnasa," through Oct. 15 in the Royal George Theatre.
From the review: "In a few too many spots, the interaction among the sisters seems strained and the moments of joy constructed. In others, the camaraderie seems easy and natural. This unevenness in execution makes for occasional tedium, though it does not detract too much from the power of the play. The production, with a set of felt walls and period costumes by Sue LePage and ethereal lighting by Louis Guinard, looks and feels like a yellowed family photo album. It contains a few moments so real, you'd swear for a flicker that Friel's memories were your own."
"An Octoroon," through 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."
"Dracula," through 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."
"Middletown," through 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.