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Donna Fletcher Crow

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Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

Fay Sampson

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Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick. http://www.faysampson.co.uk

Marriage v. Philandering at the Shaw Festival

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ October 6, 2014

 

 

A beautiful Sunday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We began the day by walking across the park to church— just as we do at home. But here we had the added delight of church bells calling us forward to worship. St. Mark's is an historic Anglican church begun in 1790 when the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent a priest from England. We were amazed when the current priest greeted us with "Welcome back." We had only been there once before and that a year ago.

 
Today's plays at the Shaw Festival offered an interesting study of marriage. First, J. B. Priestley's "When We Are Married." Three couples, celebrating their silver wedding, discover that, due to a clerical error, they were never married. Is this a disaster or freedom? If freedom, what will they do with it? Past peccadilloes and problems; current longings and troubled relationships come to light as partners are suddenly freed to speak the truth. All this in the style of the classic English farce, which is one of my favorite genres.
 
My favorite line, when all is resolved: "I guess we'll all have to make the best of each other. I suppose that's what we're here for anyway." "Making the best of each other" Yes!
 
Then in the evening G. B. Shaw's "The Philanderer." This was Shaw's second play. He was advised to burn his original act III, so he wrote a new third act— which is usually the one audiences see. Occasionally "The Philanderer" is produced with the Act III rewrite, followed by the original as a postscript. (Which I suspect would be my choice.) The production we saw was only the second time the original script has been produced since Shaw wrote it in 1893. 
 
The sheer theatricality of the Shaw Festival production was absolutely stunning. Sets, acting, costumes and the choreography of the stylized Act III created the powerful take-you-out-of-yourself experience for which one attends live theatre. The beauty and impact of the images will stay with me always.
 
But what about the script? Well, Shaw is preachy. That's just Shaw and lovers of his drama just let him get on with it no matter how much we might disagree with him. Being his second play one can forgive a bit of an overdose— after all, he was young. And England's divorce laws of the time were harsh. The problem came with the "tacked on" feeling of the final act that jumped four years in time and the emptiness of the lives that resulted from living the philosophy of pure selfishness which Shaw espoused. It's one thing to rail against problems in the establishment, but offering a hopeful solution in its place would send viewers out feeling satisfied rather than empty.

Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

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