Some time ago, I purchased tickets for my now annual jaunt to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. After a difficult winter, I was really looking forward to the time out, the time away, then it was suddenly upon me! This week, I took a well-earned break and am feeling much better for it.
It started with a reasonably pleasant drive to NOTL. I have the use of my folks’ car this summer, so was able to listen to CHUM-FM Oldies all the way. Not necessarily my first choice, but fun nevertheless. I didn’t really begin to unwind until I spied my first winery sign, followed by several fruit stands. I knew I was getting close. I got into town with enough time to browse a few of the expensive shops. NOTL is priced for American retirees, still, it’s pleasant to look.
I indulged in dinner at The Shaw Village before the show. I was pleased to note that the rather affronting Leather Shop, which previously existed behind the statue of the ardent vegetarian GBS, had gone. That store has now given over to candles and spa paraphernalia, similar to the site’s original use. Apparently one Henry Pafford (I hope I’ve spelled that correctly. As usual, it was difficult to read my notes.) once established an apothecary and candle shop there. However, I was somewhat amazed that the Shaw Village Café and Wine Bar still serves a Shaw Burger, featuring “half a pound of lean ground beef.” Ah, well. I keep wondering how GBS would’ve reacted.
I sat inside, looking through open French doors, enjoying a Portobello Mushroom with melted Brie, red pepper and onion jam, accompanied by the recommended Kir Royale and really started to relax. I enjoyed the sky, the day, the old trees, the new flowers, jazz playing in the background. Most of the other patrons were old, the staff young; my demographic, almost unique in this atmosphere. I watched the waiter wire patio chairs and tables together so they couldn’t escape… I listened to old folks laughing… I caught an elderly man smiling at me over his wife’s shoulder as he popped the last strawberry into his mouth, while I accidentally slurped my water like a twelve-year-old.
For my main course, I had Mixed Limed Greens with a Chicken Breast, the flaked coconut an unexpected surprise and lovely additional flavour, accompanied by the recommended Riesling. Because I’d gone light on the entrée, I treated myself to a Chocolate Raspberry Tart with a Café au Lait for desert. Normally I eat pretty hand-to-mouth; NOTL is my annual treat, my chance to indulge guilt-free, but only because I choose to leave my guilt at home.
Of course I’m writing all this down as I’m doing it. I always fantasize that the wait staff thinks I’m a food critic when I write while dining. A little Monsieur Pamplemousse moment (a series of comic gastronomic mysteries by Michael Bond… excellent summer reading fare!).
Pleasantly satiated, I walked across the street for my first play, The Importance of Being Earnest. It was a wonderful production of this perfectly constructed comedy, with fast pacing, brilliant timing and a lot of laughs. Although a period piece, many of Wilde’s observations are so accurate, they’re timeless.
I wouldn’t have minded an herbal tea after the show, but not finding anyplace open, I settled for a short walk instead, then went back to the B&B for the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months. I slept later than usual, had a leisurely breakfast and chat with my hostess, Lynn, and then was on my way again.
I got to the theatre about 11 a.m. for an 11:30 start and just missed the last parking space, but was able to find another fairly close by. Everything’s close by in NOTL. My second feature was an event: the complete version of Man & Superman including the Don Juan in Hell sequence… about six hours of play, including two intermissions and a lunch break. Wonderful! Brilliant! Although not all the attendant audience would agree. It was clear from snatches of conversation during breaks, that a few felt put-upon at having to wade through such a long production. So why did they buy these tickets when Shaw is also producing the truncated version of Man & Superman without the play-within-a-play?
Shaw is brilliant! This play, billed by Shaw himself as “A Comedy and A Philosophy” is packed. Now I have to sit down and read it, because I know there were points and arguments I’d like to mull over. Shaw was a mature person and writer when he created this play and his observations of humanity are painfully accurate, yet he consistently writes in a manner that makes us laugh at ourselves. It’s taken me a while to understand how humour is the most disarming and sharpest tool for getting inside people’s heads and under their skins, for getting them to understand unpleasant or difficult things.
And while watching Man & Superman I kept wondering how audiences of the early nineteen-aughts would’ve reacted. I’m certain it must’ve caused quite a stir. Not only was this playwright audacious enough to contrive a six hour play, he also created intelligent female characters and placed members of the clergy in Hell! Simultaneously, I was amazed at how incredibly relevant much of its content still is. That kind of longevity is the mark of true creative genius.
After the play, I wound back to Toronto, feeling elated and relaxed, thought-provoked and creative! It was a wonderful and much-needed respite, an opportunity to think, to recharge and get my priorities back in order.
Since my return, I have not cleaned my apartment, sorted out my balcony, done any commercial work or worried about family matters. Instead, I’ve caught some plays at the Toronto Fringe Festival, gone to a BBQ with my Mum and Dad, read mystery novels, lain in the sun, eaten fruit, played with the cats, drunk cheap wine, relaxed and slept. For almost a whole week. And I honestly don’t remember the last time I did anything so indulgent. It’s certainly been well over a year. Now I’m feeling revved up and ready to get back to my own writing and all the usual stuff (see above), but relieved of much energy wasting stress and worry.
© Catherine Jenkins 2004