Thursday, September 22, 2011

Play Time

For the past several years we’ve enjoyed a late summer/early autumn excursion with friends to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada for the Shaw Festival. Here we indulge in a long weekend of theater, dinners, drinks and late evening French fries. It’s traditionally been a back-road, top-down trip in our respective convertibles.

This year the weather was threatening to threaten so Darrell and I took the Volvo instead. The handsome photo of the mineral blue 1966 MGB pictured at the top of this page is the car we would have taken, if the sun had come out sooner. Bob and Chris took their cute little Miata anyway because it’s more cooperative when the top has to come up fast. Lucky them. Oh, heck, lucky us, too, in our kitted-out Volvo.

Our drive to NOTL from Cleveland takes about 5 hours since we start off on I-90 and then take Route 5 once we hit western New York. It makes us happy to save on tolls and buy cheaper gas from Native Americans. The lake trail is a picturesque ride with Lake Erie to our left and lush grape fields to the right. Even in early September the grapes were starting to become fragrant. In October you can smell them through closed windows as you drive. It kind of makes you feel all Smuckered inside.

Once we get across the Peace Bridge we head for the Niagara Parkway for the last leg of the trip. The parkway is surprisingly untraveled which makes the views of the Niagara River and some beautiful homes that much more pleasant. Oh, Canada.

Of course we stayed at a bed & breakfast and there are gobs of them in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The chosen one this year was Lyons House B&B.
Little-known fact: Lyons House is cube-shaped. So there.
The house is an easy walk to all the theaters, although King Street can get a little noisy with traffic.  Guests have the use of a lovely, large, comfortable sitting room and a cheerful dining room. Our rooms were nice, too, but the bathroom situation left a tad to be desired. The john was “separated” from the bedroom by a cheap-o, bi-fold, see-through glass door. I don’t know about you, but I like a door that stays closed when I close it and I prefer to not have to avert my eyes when someone else is doing their duty. But that’s just me.

Howard was our Lyons House host. Ah, Howard. He’s a bit of a snob, however benevolent, who likes to wax sarcastic and chat it up some. I mean that in a kind way, but he did get on one or two of Darrell’s nerves.  Mine, too, for that matter. I think a good B&B host should be seen and not so much heard. It really is not about them, after all.

Having said that, I will say this…that Howard can cook. Breakfasts were memorable. When asked if we had any food issues I mentioned that I couldn’t handle eggs if I can see their parts – like yolks and whites and such. So nothing fried, poached or boiled for me. Scrambled, quiched or omeleted I can handle. You get the idea. Howard had some fun with me on this, but did manage to adapt Eggs Benedict quite nicely to my special needs. We also loaded up on omelets, blueberry pancakes and some of the best bacon I’ve ever had. Is there any such thing as bad bacon? Yes, there is, if you’ve been to England, but that’s another story. Bob particularly liked the strawberries and yogurt with a nutty, toasty grainy thing sprinkled on top and a banana surprise down below…as it were.

We asked for a dinner recommendation and H. suggested the Stone Road Grille as being the best restaurant around. He warned that it was pricey. PRICEY! HOLY KRONA! It rivals Stockholm prices. The food was just OK and the portions were rather small. We weren’t too impressed with the price-to-value ratio.

Our favorite restaurant is Ginger, a quiet little white tablecloth place (but not hoity-toity) specializing in Asian style cuisine. Fresh herbs and spices, lightly prepared entrees just so full of flavor. I had the tilapia for dinner and a shrimp bisque to die for. We all came away from that meal feeling really good.

Stone Road and Ginger are a quick car ride from the center of town. We also had a decent meal at Corks, right in the center of town. Howard said Corks was garbage. Hmph! Get off y’er high horse, Howard. The place was just fine. And the price was right.

So, OK, we stayed for 3 nights and saw 5 plays. I’m an actor, not a critic, but I will share some quick opinions on what we saw:

The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie.  The story dealt with class structure, role reversal and nature’s way therein. We usually love J.M. Barrie plays, but this one was not his best. It felt more like a period piece gone all Gilligan’s Island. 
The Admirable Crichton

My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady. One of our favorite NOTL actors, Deborah Hay, played Eliza Doolittle, which was the main draw for us. The show received glowing reviews but we were all underwhelmed. It just felt flat. The choreography was blah and Higgins was kind of dumpy and not very likable. Disappointing.

Drama at Inish, a Comedy. Such an absolute delight seeing how the people of the tiny seaside town of Inish, Ireland are affected by a troupe of traveling actors.  A funny, touching, poignant gem of a play. Bravo to Mary Haney for her priceless portrayal of Lizzie.
Drama at Inish. This actress is not Mary Haney. It's Corrine Koslo who also played Big Mama in Cat.
The President. The Shaw Festival features morning one-acts that are always a great way to start the day. This year’s was the hilarious The President
The President

The lead character, a corporate president, has exactly one hour in which to transform a derelict communist (is there any other kind?) into a credible business executive (your oxymoron joke goes here). Played by laser-sharp Lorne Kennedy, this manic, maniacal “suit” spewed instructions, invectives and asides at warp speed. The. Whole. Time. Beyond brilliant.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This production of the Tennessee Williams classic was a scorcher if I ever saw one. Act I was a tiny bit tepid, as this particular Maggie seemed rather forced to me. But look out for Act II when Big Daddy hits the stage with both barrels blazing.  It was absolutely riveting from there on out.  When we got home we watched the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives and Paul Newman.  Ha! Hollywood left out just a few significant details about Skipper and Brick’s relationship. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Shhhh. It's a secret.

Some people like NOTL because it’s pretty and quaint and has lots of shops to blow your wad in…I mean to go broke in…I mean to browse around in. With the possible exception of the affordable and curiosity-provoking Cheese Secrets, touristy shopping is not a selling point for us. We more appreciate The Stratford Festival for being in a real city with commerce, depth and texture.

But in defense of Niagara, there is one authentic stop that leaves Stratford’s nightlife in the dust, and that is The Old Angel Inn.
The Old Angel Inn
The Old Angel Pub

Established in 1789, the Old Angel is the oldest operating inn in Ontario.

The pub has the best fries on the planet, great manly beers, low ceilings, rickety steps and live music every weekend. It’s always packed after the theater and that just adds to the fun. One day I’ll tell you about Charles from Dusseldorf and his passion for Old Angel B-52s. Wish I had a picture of Charles. He was cute.


1 comment:

  1. Love this post. It answered all sorts of questions I have had about NOTL and gave me a vicarious experience of staying with Howard and eating his good breakfast with the disguised eggs benedict. I can't picture that. I really can't. One of these days we'll take The Flying Tomato or more likely the stolid Lexus and go to there. Great review!