Come Back, Little Sheba at the Shaw Festival Theatre [Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON]

In the four years (almost to the day) that I have lived in Niagara, it was not until tonight and Come Back, Little Sheba that I finally set foot inside the Royal George Theatre. I had walked by it countless times, probably even eaten an ice-cream (or two) while leaning against its exterior, but had not taken the time to explore this local Shaw Festival treasure. If you live close-by, or far away, do yourself a favour and pen a stop to this downtown historic building into your schedule.

The Royal George presents a modest exterior, but inside it’s all Edwardian gilt mouldings, red walls and golden lions! This 328-seat theatre was built as a vaudeville house to entertain the troops during World War I. ~ The Shaw Festival

The play started at 8pm and by the time we arrived downtown at the theatre the sky was dark. The contrast of lights from the doors out front were a giveaway that we had arrived, and we managed to get a parking spot across the road (which was nice because it had started to rain).

Greeted at the front door by an usher and the bright red of the walls within, I felt like I had traveled back in time. The foyer is intimate and, 5 minutes before showtime, could also be described as crowded. No one, however, seemed to mind as the environment fostered an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation.

When the doors from the foyer opened into the theatre I was immediately struck by the old-world charm of the gold-flecked trim, and especially by the intricacy of the Come Back, Little Sheba set. It looked simple at first glance – like the first floor of any all-American household in the 50’s – but then complex in the windows, staircases, doors and details. It was not long before my favourite part of the theatre; I absolutely love that moment when the lights start to dim, the crowd hushes into silence, and then the stage comes alive and this time was no different.

First, Corrine Koslos is a spectacular actress. Throughout the play I was affixed to her every word, every silence and everything in between. Her sincerity and connection to  her character, Lola Delaney, is evident and powerful and drew me in so that my heart sung when she danced and broke when she cried. I do believe she has done playwright William Inge proud.

Last night I was moved to tears. Corrine Koslo’s performance in “Come Back, Little Sheba” was brilliant. ~Mary Brubacher [Regina, SK] c/o Twitter

Ric Reid, as Doc Delaney, was equally as transfixing. The opening scene had me on the edge of my seat waiting hear his first line. So many silences, so many whispers and whims and dreams lost for Doc had me feeling sorry for him from the get-go.

And not to leave out Julia Course (as Marie), and Kevin McGarry (as Turk) in their vibrant youth as well as Sharry Flett (as Mrs. Coffman) in her wisdom; these characters brought yet another layer of humour and depth to the stage.

Overall, Come Back, Little Sheba is thoughtful, introspective and quite sad. The pace is slow and mesmerizing, like the steady beat of a quiet drum. At times I found myself lost in my thoughts – who knows for how long – and when I snapped out of my little world the play had seemed not to progress much farther then when my daydreaming began.

At the end, I was surprised that it had ended. Although impossible to miss the dramatic climax of the performance, I felt like I had misunderstood the point, like there was something left that the play wanted to tell me but never did. That giddy, exhilarated feeling I am used to getting from the Shaw was missing this time around. I found myself clapping for the wonderful performances but without the usual sheer joy in what I had just been a part of.

The Shaw Festival is one of (if not) my favourite local luxuries here in Niagara. The richness and life the Shaw Festival brings to the stage keeps me returning year after year, and I am already excited for the 2013 season — Guys and Dolls is sure to be a hit!

Come Back, Little Sheba closes this coming Friday October 19th – it will not be on my list of favourites, but I encourage you to see it as it may be on yours.

* All pictures were provided by the Shaw Festival *


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