Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.
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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History
A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ December 5, 2019
My first visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake was many years ago when our son, who lived in Buffalo at the time, took us across the border for a visit. I instantly fell in love. English-themed shops, amazing floral displays everywhere, an authentic Edwardian hotel...
Little did I realize that was only the tip of the iceberg. In 2012 my husband, a devout “Wall Street Journal” reader, saw a rave review of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Yes! We had already planned a trip to visit family on the east coast, so why not? After all, all the way from Idaho, this was sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It was only a two-night visit. But it was enough. We saw a truly unforgettable performance of Shaw’s “Misalliance,” a rarely performed play because it is often considered “talky.” Not this performance which offered great acting and riveting sight-gags. We were hooked.
We have tried to get back every year since, although we have missed some. In those years, though, we have been treated to a vast array of modern and classical drama and a good portion of the Shaw canon.
This year we started with “Getting Married,” Shaw’s rather cynical, but hysterically funny, commentary on matrimony. Knowing the playwright’s curmudgeonly views on traditional values, I was pleasantly surprised with the happy ending.
The Shaw Festival presentation of the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” was a lavish, uproarious and touching period piece.
“Sex” by none other than Mae West—who knew she was an author?—was, as one would expect sexy and funny. I was unprepared to be so deeply moved by the lives of the characters. Or so delighted by the plot twists.
The blockbuster for this season was Shaw’s “Man and Superman” with “Don Juan in Hell.” This 6-hour marathon is, understandably, seldom offered to theatre-goers. Even with a lunch break (the festival offered packed lunches) it was a tour de force for actors and audience alike. But well worth it. We had seen the usually omitted act III “Don Juan in Hell” portion on its own at Harvard’s Loeb Theatre many years ago, but it takes on added power when presented as a whole. “A grand opera in the middle of a musical comedy,” our program notes said. Very apt.
But for me, the truly memorable moment of the season came in the middle of “The Ladykillers.” For years we have loved the 1955 classic British movie with Alec Guinness and were much looking forward to seeing it on stage.
The pinnacle for me, though, was actually getting to take part in the production. Before the play began the two actresses playing Mrs. Wilberforce’s friends approached the row we were seated in (conveniently next to a side door) and asked if anyone would be willing to take on a small, non-speaking role. As a former drama major and teacher, and natural born ham, I put my hand up instantly, along with a lady in the row behind me. (Her friends thought she was crazy. “Are you really going to do that?” they asked her.)
Near the end of Act I we slipped out that handy side door and were ushered through the backstage. New to me since my thespian days were the monitors showing the action onstage. The costume manager fitted us with 50s hat, coat and bags. The actresses from the company explained that we were to enter with them, then sit with our backs to the audience for the “concert” performed by Mrs. Wilberforce’s nefarious guests.
We even got to take our places again for the opening of scene II, then besiege Professor Marcus (the Alec Guinness role) and his fellow conspirator who hated little old ladies, at the end of the concert.
Ah, my five minutes of stardom and yet another addition to my favorite Canadian memories.
If you have missed my earlier posts in this series of our Trans-Canada Journey by train, plane and car, you can see it all here on The Authorized Version.
Read More: Trans-Canada Adventure