Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wineries, Knick-Knacks, Tea Cozies And Cakes

Joshua and I were sort of disappointed in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and we were sort of disappointed in The Shaw Festival.

As a vacation destination, Niagara-On-The-Lake is probably an ideal spot for those who are interested in wineries.

We are not.

Niagara-On-The-Lake is also an ideal destination for those who are interested in a quaint assortment of little craft shops and tiny tea shops.

We are not.

“Wineries, knick-knacks, tea cozies and cakes”: that was Josh’s characterization of Niagara-On-The-Lake, and Josh was not far wrong in his assessment.

That left, for us, The Shaw Festival, and I am not confident that The Shaw Festival merits its high reputation.

Josh and I attended five Shaw Festival presentations, and the level of performance and production was pure regional theater, nothing more.

None of the plays we attended was particularly strong. Perhaps better material would have revealed The Shaw Festival in better light, but Josh and I saw nothing that made us want to return to The Shaw Festival anytime soon.

Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple” was the best of the plays we attended, and “The Devil’s Disciple” also received the finest production. Nonetheless, “The Devil’s Disciple” is not one of Shaw’s stronger plays. The play is tolerable, no more, and The Shaw Festival production was competent, no more.

Kanin’s “Born Yesterday” is a very old-fashioned play, written to formula, and probably requires a cast of stars to warrant revival. The Shaw Festival “Born Yesterday” cast was not a cast of stars. The production and performance were flat as a pancake.

I had forgotten how boring O’Neill’s “A Moon For The Misbegotten” can be in anything less than an exceptional production, but The Shaw Festival presentation proved a potent reminder.

The Sondheim musical, “Sunday In The Park With George”, received a low-budget production, and the performance was precisely at the level of a university theater department staging. In the hands of a good director and a good cast, I believe the first act of “Sunday” might be salvaged, but I doubt whether even Tyrone Guthrie or Giorgio Strehler could do anything with the musical’s gruesome if not frightening second act. The most enjoyable aspect of The Shaw Festival’s presentation of “Sunday” was its very lameness—the production had a rustic kind of charm.

The seldom-staged “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days” was a curiosity. Shaw’s final significant play, premiered less than three weeks before Britain embarked upon war with Germany in late summer 1939, “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days” is—literally—Shaw’s version of a Restoration comedy. The play addresses the court and courtiers—and hangers-on—of Charles II, installed upon the throne at the end of the Cromwell Protectorate, and involves a discussion of the nature of power and leadership. The play has a few splendid moments, moments in which the dialogue not only flows but positively sparkles. However, The Shaw Festival production did not reveal the work to be a strong one, let alone worthy of revival. I can understand why “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days” has never been able to secure a place in the repertory.

Apparently The Shaw Festival has been suffering from attendance problems. Ticket sales in 2009 have been thirteen per cent lower than 2008. 2008 sales were lower than 2007, and 2007 sales were lower than 2006. In fact, attendance has been falling at both Canadian theater festivals since the 2001 season, no doubt the result of a post-9/11 world.

An article I read in The Globe And Mail noted that Americans typically constitute forty per cent of the audience for both Canadian festivals—and Americans have been staying away in droves in recent seasons. Earlier this year, to spark American tourism, the Canadian government gave $3,000,000 in stimulus funds to The Shakespeare Festival to advertise in American newspapers, and $2,000,000 in stimulus funds to The Shaw Festival to advertise in American newspapers. I have no idea whether this scheme has been successful.

That same Globe and Mail article stated that the majority of Americans that travel to Canada to attend one or both festivals are from the American Midwest, and not from the Northeast. I found this particular claim to be very surprising, given how close the Northeast is to Stratford and Niagara-On-The-Lake and given the Northeast’s population density. Without seeing subscriber lists, I find the assertion hard to accept. Over Labor Day Weekend, Josh and I did not encounter any persons from the Midwest.

We thought that Niagara-On-The-Lake might be crowded over Labor Day Weekend, but the town was not crowded in the least. It was very easy to get around, and nothing—cafes, restaurants, hotels—appeared to be overbooked.

We enjoyed our hotel. Since prices at hotels in Niagara-On-The-Lake were quite uniform, all within a very narrow range, we elected to stay at the best hotel in town (or at least what was reputed to be the best hotel in town). It was a fine hotel, excellently situated, with full amenities and distinguished service. We were very happy there for three days and three nights.

On Saturday morning, we visited Fort George. We explored the entire grounds and facilities, which are quite large, and we enjoyed the Canadian perspective on The War Of 1812.

On Monday, Josh and I visited Niagara Falls. The Falls are quite beautiful—and awesomely loud!

We also drove around Buffalo for a couple of hours on Monday, as we had time to kill before our return flight was due to depart.

I don’t think I would want to live in Buffalo.

1 comment:

  1. I was giving tour for friends of knick-knack circus city (aka Niagara Falls) this past weekend.. hope you had a great visit! And thanks for great mention of our Niagara Falls - I added your link to our twitter! .. ~ peace