The second of our two days at the Shaw Festival will be both a marathon and a delight. It will be a marathon because we see three productions in one day. This is a full day though, by no means, a record for me. It will be a delight in that I am seeing performances of three very different pieces from three completely different genres of theater. Two of the pieces are new to me. The third is comfortable and familiar.
The day starts are 11:30 AM with a one-act, mid-century American opera titled “Trouble In Tahiti”. With music and libretto by Leonard Bernstein, the opera was first performed in 1952. It was later incorporated as a flashback sequence into Bernstein’s 1983 opera “A Quite Place”.
Set in 1950’s American suburbia, it is the story of a married couple. The Wikipedia synopsis states; “Little occurs in terms of plot. Trouble in Tahiti is the story of one day in the life of two desperately unhappy people, lonely, longing for love, and unable to communicate. At the end of the opera, Sam and Dinah are left in essentially the same position as they were when the opera began, with only a bleak hope of reconciliation.” Sounds like opera to me!
After a quick lunch, the day continues with a matinee of “Misalliance”: by George Bernard Shaw. Written about 1910 when Edwardian England was struggling to rebel against the constraints of Victorian England, the play is the story a nouveau riche family attempting to marry their bored, adventure-starved daughter off to one or another member of the aristocracy. I have never read nor seen this play but, being a Shaw comedy, I expect it will be wordy and witty. The battle of the sexes will be in full view and I expect much fun will be had the expense of upper middle-class and aristocratic pretension.
The final performance of the day will be the late 20th century musical “Ragtime”. The musical, with a book by the prolific Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyric by Lynn Ahrens premiered in Canada in 1996 before opening on Broadway in 1998. It received 13 Tony nominations and won several awards though, on the whole, the Tony voters seemed to prefer “The Lion King” that year.
I was taken to task on Facebook recently by a friend for describing this show as ‘a guilty pleasure’. He is correct about the quality of the show. There is some guilt for me in choosing to see it rather than “Come Back Little Sheba”; the William Inge masterpiece which is playing at the same time in another Festival venue. The Inge play is a classic and not often done professionally any more. Also, I have seen professional productions of “Ragtime” twice before; in Vancouver BC and in San Francisco. Still there is sometime about “Ragtime”.
The musical is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E.L.Doctorow. I recall being captivated by the novel one summer when I was in college. The story is a vision of America in the age of Ragtime music as seen, Roshomon-style, through the eyes of a wealthy white family, disenfranchised African-Americans, and newly arrived Jewish immigrants. The novel became a movie in 1981. The film is primarily famous for having been the last film appearance of James Cagney.
The story is both intimate and sweeping. The music is engaging and emotionally powerful. I’m sure I’ll be looking for a tissue by the end of “On the Wheels of a Dream”. Oh; who am I kidding? I’ll know where those tissues are before the lights go down.
By day’s end we’ll have seen 6 hours of theater; a 1910 English/Irish comedy;; a 1950’s American opera; and late 20th century ‘Broadway’ musical. I can’t wait!