Monday, June 20, 2011
SHAW FESTIVAL DRAMA AT INISH – A COMEDY - A GEM OF A PLAY THAT GETS A DELIGHTFUL PRODUCTION
Reviewed by James Karas
Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director has made another discovery. She has unearthed Drama at Inish – A Comedy by Irish playwright Lennox Robinson and brought it to Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is a gem of a play that is given a delightful production and earns a standing ovation.
It may be safe to say that Robinson (1886 -1958) is not a household name even among theatre goers. Drama at Inish was first produced in Dublin in 1933 and it did make it to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1934 but again it may be safe to assume that there cannot be too many fresh memories of the production.
In the early 1930’s a troupe of actors arrives at the sleepy town of Inish, in Southern Ireland. They intend to produce serious drama by the likes of Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg and, no doubt, raise the spiritual and intellectual standards of the town.
We will meet the Barrymoresque leader of the troupe, Hector de la Mare, who is everything that an actor should be. He is tall with black hair slicked back, has a moustache and wears a goatee and a black cape. He is theatrical to the core and Thom Marriott loses no opportunity to act, overact, strike poses and be simply hilarious in the role.
De la Mare is accompanied by his wife Constance Constantia who is half his height and swathed in a mink coat. She can out-pose and out-overact her husband at will.
The action takes place in the sitting room of a hotel owned by John Twohig (Ric Reid) and his wife Annie (Donna Belleville). They are small-town people; he is the soul of decency and she is the example of overspending. His sister Lizzie (hilariously played by Mary Haney) runs the hotel or at least she thinks she does.
As may be expected, the presence of actors and serious drama wreaks havoc in the town. Crimes are committed, people sign suicide pacts, there are suicide attempts and, as they say, all hell breaks loose. The insipid but hilarious local Member of Parliament (Peter Krantz), inspired by Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, votes against his party and the government falls. Eddie Twohig (Craig Pike) whose marriage proposals to Christine Lambert (Julia Course) have been repeatedly spurned jumps off a pier and, well, gets wet. There is so much happening in Inish that a newspaper reporter (Ken James Stewart) arrives from Dublin to check the place out.
As one may suspect, serious drama and small town folk, don’t usually mix well. The people of Inish confirm this suspicion by staying away from the performances in droves. Things will work out eventually even if the town has to bring the circus. The maid Helena (Maggie Blake) will also work things out with Michael “the Boots” (a funny Andrew Bunker) and all will end well.
This is heart-warming, funny and simply marvelous theatre. The cast got a well-deserved standing ovation but the real hero of the production is surely Jackie Maxwell for finding the play and directing it.
Drama at Inish – A Comedy by Lennox Robinson opened on May 6 and will run until October 9, 2011 at the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.