EASY VIRTUE, by Noel Coward, directed by Christopher Newton, with Goldie Semple, Patricia Hamilton, Kelli Fox, Fiona Byrne, Ben Carlson and David Schurmann. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to July 21. $38-$75. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNNN
Back for a second season at the Shaw Festival, Noel Coward's Easy Virtue proves a sharper, more humane, less preachy play than it was last year. NThe tale of Larita, an older woman with a past who marries the young son of a snobby, upper-class family, has more heart this time around, for the dependable Shaw acting ensemble has fleshed out the straw targets that Coward sets up -- the pompous Whittakers, most of whom oppose the clearly superior and more likeable Larita -- and made them richer, with understandable tics and foibles.
Memorable series Director Christopher Newton and his performers carve a memorable series of family portraits, notably Kelli Fox's snorting, twitchy, hypercritical elder daughter, Fiona Byrne's yappy-puppy younger sibling and Patricia Hamilton's imperious materfamilias, whose face freezes into a chilly sneer whenever she confronts a morally questionable situation. As the father, and Larita's key defender, David Schurmann sometimes fades into the background, but Ben Carlson, as John, the new bridegroom, gives warmth to an ungrateful role.
But the show wouldn't work without a Larita who captures not only John's attention but also ours. The elegant Goldie Semple triumphs here as she did last year, with a performance that radiates honesty, charm, humour and a sad self-awareness of the romantic mistakes that even an experienced woman of the world can make.