I thought I would report on the Shaw shuttle bus in its inaugural season. While I have been trying to spread the word, it is definitely a bit of an insiders' secret. The bus was not quite half full. Interestingly, one of the actors from Dracula was on the bus Instagramming it. He came over and took my photo and asked some questions, but I think he was having a lot of trouble either logging in or with a weak connection, since several of the photos and videos had to be taken twice. In the end, my photo didn't get loaded, so my moment in the glare of social media was avoided.
I was really glad not to have to drive, but they played the soundtrack to Me and My Girl on the way in (eventually dropping the volume a bit) and then a video covering the entire season.* This made it very hard to focus on reading, so next time I will have to bring my iPod. I don't think Shaw quite gets that we don't want to be overloaded with Shaw stuff on the bus, we just want to get to the Festival. That is my main complaint about the bus.
I was there to see Shaw's Saint Joan. I thought the staging was stark and interesting. I was kind of surprised at how little attention was paid to Joan's success on the field of war. We basically see her gearing up to raise the siege of Orléans and then we see the aftermath after she is captured (at Compiègne about a year later). Shaw's decision is interesting and not wholly successful in my mind. The political intrigue that ends the first act is too long. Also, the Inquisition scene also dragged quite a bit. I thought the dream sequence that ended the play was reasonably successful, particularly when Joan threatens to resurrect herself and all her admirers suggest it better that she stay in Heaven. There are not too many playwrights who are quite so political (or as "talky") as Shaw, though I suppose Kushner is a direct descendant of Shaw, though Kushner is a bit better at exploring the emotional side of things. To some extent, the machinations of the Church reminded me a bit of Brecht's Galileo, though that is actually a more interesting play since you see Galileo recant under pressure to save his skin. Joan is actually a very one-note character, and while she is spunky, I actually was fairly bored by her.
But of course, I don't take religion seriously at all, other than the fact that others take it so seriously that it often imposes itself on my life. To sort of complement Saint Joan, I was reading St. Augustine's Confessions on the bus ride. I hoped to get a bit further, but in the end I only made it halfway through. While there are a few interesting moments, in general it was too much (sort of like if John Donne had given up the poetry and spent all his time blogging...). I find it tragic that an intelligent man ends up throwing away his critical facilities and goes in for the line that this omniscient being is so beyond reason or providing any kind of proof, that one must just have faith in it (completely leaving aside the issue of why God needs all this acknowledgement from his creations**). In general, Augustine's discussion of his struggles over the the issue of the presence of evil in the world are so general and vague that I don't see how anyone would be convinced by them. For some reason, he takes nearly the last 100 pages to discuss Genesis, so I suppose that at least will be more detailed. It is a little hard for me to swallow that this is actually a masterpiece of world literature, since there is so little of interest for anyone who is not Christian. But I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't actually read it. Soon I can cross it off my list and donate it to someone who will appreciate it more.
Back to this Shaw season, there are two plays (1979 and the musical Me and My Girl) that I would consider if they transferred to Toronto, but I am not willing to make the trek back, even with the bus. I really don't like Niagara-on-the-Lake. I find it tacky and completely overrun with tourists. Stratford is just so much nicer, and I always enjoy my time there. I'll just have to see what next season at the Shaw has to offer. I'd probably go see Man and Superman, but in general there are not that many plays by Shaw that I am dying to see.
* While in general, the AD seems like a fairly reasonable person, he says that the Shaw festival audience is the best in the world. What a crazy thing to say, and how hard it will be to live down if he ever applies to work at Stratford... Anyway, I thought I would relate that the woman next to me spent the entire first act knitting! While it wasn't actually loud, it was still very distracting and incredibly rude. Fortunately, there were quite a few empty seats in the balcony and I was able to move over.
** In particular, the God of the Old Testament is incredibly thin-skinned and insecure like a schoolyard bully. And what he gets up to in the Book of Job is so unreasonable that I can't understand how anyone who took it seriously would remain a Christian. I'm glad that Ursula Le Guin, at least, agrees with me.