Our Travel Log: Picking Plays Worth Seeing Again

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Theater: a new experience every time.

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Most of the plays we saw at the Shaw Festival in Canada were those we have seen before over the years, at the Shaw or elsewhere. By necessity, though, they are inevitably different. The times are different, the actors are usually different, and perhaps most important, we are different. Hence, reactions and insights are different.

Take the play “The Apple Cart” by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the namesake of the festival. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. This play was written a few years later, in the time between the 2 wars. However, it was placed in 1967, as it almost prophetically turned out, a turbulent civil rights time in the United States. It also was the year I started medical school, and 1 year before we married. It ended up seeming that it could have been written today for its correspondence to politics in the United States.

As wordy as Shaw plays usually are, this seemed to be a satire of a power struggle between a King and his Prime Minister. The King ends up winning, in part by threatening a clever and paradoxical resignation, something like the reframing we do sometimes in psychotherapy to get past the resistance.

Then there was the musical “Gypsy.” It talked about helicopter mothering before the term became popular! Here, the pros and cons of a stage mother’s narcissism were presented poignantly and musically. Perhaps another example of how artists can sense the worrisome trends in society.

For those interested in spiritism, which is a movement that focuses on the relationship between the dead with the living, the comedy "Blythe Spirit" did not seem spooky at all, but rather felt like an emotional ache for those lost, even if they had annoyed you while alive. Amazingly enough, it premiered in 1941 in England while it was being bombed by the Germans. Maybe the humor and connection to life after death helped with coping with the trauma and losses of the time. We ourselves have just come out of the deadly pandemic.

Last for now was the short lunchtime play by Shaw, “Village Wooing.” With a rotating cast and starting on a ship, a lower-class woman seems to fall in love at first sight with a high-class reluctant-to-engage author. He later buys her shop in town and they become partners in all sense of the word, making you wonder about the different directions that chance encounters and life can take. Certainly, that resonated with me personally when I reluctantly went to a Hillel mixer at the University of Michigan back in 1965 and fell in love at first sight with my slower-to-fall-in-love wife to be. What if I had not gone there? I do not want to even imagine that!

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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