SHADOW PLAY by Noel Coward, directed by David Savoy, with Patty Jamieson, Patrick R. Brown, Jillian Cook, Guy Bannerman, Jeff Madden, Blythe Wilson and Karen Wood. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to September 23. $18. 1-800-411-7429. Rating: NNNN
one of the best productions at this year's Shaw Festival is also the shortest. Programmed as the fest's noon show, Noel Coward's Shadow Play looks at a drugged woman's response to her failing marriage. And it's a musical. Not your typical lunchtime fare.What's more amazing is that Coward wrote it in 1936. With elegant wit (who else would rhyme "Watteau" and "chateau"?), a few hummable tunes and some caustic comments on romance, Coward offers up a dream banquet peppered with longing and sad truths as well as the possibility of a better future for the married couple. If you didn't know better, you might think you'd wandered into a one-act Sondheim.
Patty Jamieson and Patrick R. Brown play the pair wonderfully, especially Jamieson as the bitter Victoria, who has the chance through an overdose of sleeping pills to journey into a past that's rosier than her present.
There's great depth and strength in her performance, and director David Savoy draws fine performances from the rest of the cast, including Blythe Wilson and Jeff Madden as the husband and wife's lovers.
Equally effective are Paul Sportelli's arrangements and musical direction, William Orlowski's choreography, Judith Bowden's deco design and Jeff Logue's lighting. This production is as sharp on the ears as on the eyes.