The sounds of the sea
For the second year in a row, my daughter and I headed to the Shaw Festival to see a play that the critics had lambasted. Last year it was The Philanderer; this year You Never Can Tell. The latter was scorned as “over-the-top antics” by The Globe and Mail; The Star knocked it down for having an “overenthusiastic design team.” Both years the critics were wrong. The plays were a great success.
George Bernard Shaw still succeeds at what he set out to do more than a century ago. And that is shock the audience with non-conventional thinking and presentation. Director Jim Mezon ably captures both of those elements in this production.
After all, how many plays feature a dentist? Or a wise waiter? Or lines such as “The great advantage of a hotel is that it’s a refuge from home life.” Or shots such such as all marriages work well but only “from time to time”? Shaw is always at his best as a social commentator, particularly in his light-hearted works. In this case he touches on such eternal topics as feminism, marriage and the class structure in society, all of it under the umbrella of intellect versus emotion.
Most important of all are Shaw’s words. The play takes place at the seaside and his words come at you – phrases, sentences, entire paragraphs, lengthy monologues – like wave after wave crashing onto the beach. In a self-indulgent age when too many people publish their shallow banalities, Shaw offers magnificent rhythms and reassuring sounds that remind us that deeper thoughts and well-wrought words still matter.
As for what the critics say, Shaw would be unsurprised by their misreadings. After all, you never can tell.