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at the Shaw Festival

What pleasure it was to be immersed in my thespian past for a few days, with actress friend Nicola Cavendish. On Thursday we rented a car and drove to Niagara on the Lake to see two plays, visit friends and stay the night. When we arrived, we checked in at our b and b – Bushy House, on the outskirts of town, where we had a spacious pretty room with two big beds, a fireplace and a view of the woods outside. The weather had suddenly turned very cold, and Ms. Cavendish had brought only a linen jacket from the west coast. But little things like that don’t bother her as they do me.

At lunch, while Nicky slowly finished (I eat at four times the speed she does) I went for a walk down to the lake. We had emailed our mutual dear friend, the actor Norman Browning, to let him know we were coming and would love if possible to see him, but had not heard back and didn’t know where he and his actress wife Laurie lived. I was driven from the lake by the cold – even more bitter and windy by the water – and as I walked back, I saw in NDP sign outside a house, welcome and rare in this town of Tory blue. Looking at the man sitting smoking on the porch, I thought, he looks familiar. It was Norman.

Their house is on one of the bigger streets leading to the lake, much favoured by the leaders of Chinese tours, so as we sat chatting on the porch, scores of Chinese tourists went by in huge clumps. Norman told me that sometimes they stop and ask if they can take a picture of him – or even come up on the porch and be photographed with him. He looks like a real Canadian, I guess. If only they knew he spent his entire professional life in the theatre!

In the afternoon, we saw “The Divine,” and I confess I left at intermission and went back to visit with Norman and Laurie while Nicky saw Act 2. Life is too short. Such an interesting subject too – the visit Sarah Bernhardt made to Quebec City in 1905, to the horror of the Catholic church. But the didactic, clunky play needs tons more work, and the production did not help. That’s all I’ll say.

After a great visit and then dinner at Zee’s, we saw the Tony Kusher play with the unwieldy title “The intelligent homosexual’s guide to capitalism and socialism with a key to the scriptures.” And the title  – shortened at Shaw to IHO – is the only unnecessary thing about this play. What a night of theatre – stunning writing, direction, acting, set, music, all superb. This production should pack up and tour the world. Magnificent and moving – not to mention three acts and nearly four hours long. But the time vanished. So much to digest.

Back to Bushy House in the cold and dark, and next morning, our landlady Jody produced a fabulous breakfast, a cheese and veg omelette with eggs and tomatoes from her own chickens and garden, hot croissants with her homemade jam, lots of coffee. I bought a dozen fresh eggs from her, each egg marked with the date it was laid and one, a blue egg, with the name of the chicken – Puff. Highly recommended if you’re going to NOTL. I will certainly stay there again.

We set off for visits – to Christopher Newton, for a long time the Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, an extremely articulate man overflowing with taste, ideas, and talent. Then to the Irish Shop teahouse to meet Fiona Reid and Steven Sutcliffe, actors in the festival, Fiona one of its stars (and in The Divine, but luckily also in IHO, which is what we talked about.) As I’ve said before, theatre talk for me is like visiting a country where I speak the language because I used to live there. Now I’m in exile, and happily so. But I’m writing about the theatre in my memoir, and my time with Nicky brought so much of it back. Then she zipped off to Montreal. She’s got a small recurring part in a new CBC spy drama, The Romeo Section, starting next Wednesday. Nicky, my lunatic friend, as a retired CSIS agent – what will they think of next?

While I was away, baby Ben had his cast off and the “boots and bars” fitted and put on. The angle of his club foot has been corrected; this is to make sure it stays that way. He has to wear them 23 hours a day for 12 weeks – till Xmas.

With neighbour Monique. “He looks like a tiny skateboarder,” she said.

 With Mama

It’s awkward, as you can imagine – but he’s coping and so, of course, is his marvellous mother. Today we met at the Y, where she ascertained that the dance class Eli refuses to participate in is just not right for him – too structured. “He loves dancing,” she said, “but he doesn’t want to be told what to do.” So we’ll find something else.  Meanwhile, Ben was in a good mood, despite the cold and wet. But I can tell you, after a busy few days and with some even busier ones coming up, the last thing I want to do is go out and look at the hundreds of Nuit Blanche installations all over the city starting in only a few hours. There’s a freezing rain right now. Poor artists. I wish you well and God bless you. I’m turning on the furnace, pouring a glass of wine and staying home.

I have not mentioned the election. It’s too terrifying, too horrific to imagine that … no, I won’t even write it. Unbearable. At 3 a.m., I was awake saying to myself, Democracy sucks sometimes. Voters make terrible, terrible mistakes. And there’s still a world, albeit a diminished, sadder place as a result of those mistakes. Pray for our country.

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4 Responses to “at the Shaw Festival”

  1. beth says:

    And thanks to you too, Theresa.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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