In 1962, a lovely little town in southern Ontario decided to adopt the plays of George Bernard Shaw as a civic passion. The town was named Niagara, but in 1970 it was rechristened Niagara-on-the-Lake, the new name underscoring its situation on Lake Ontario. The town’s heritage includes an essential role in the War of 1812; it was tossed back and forth between British loyalist forces and invading troops from the United States, with the landmark of Fort George still boasting a building from that time. The rest of the town was wiped out when the Americans torched it before retreating in late 1813, leaving the unfortunate residents to shiver through (or, in many cases, freeze in) a December blizzard. Within a few years, the hardy survivors reconstructed their community. Many of the gracious buildings that line the several blocks of the town center are handsome vestiges of the first couple of decades following that event.
Within the span of four profusely gardened blocks one encounters four theaters. In those buildings, the Shaw Festival unrolls every year from early April through late October — until Nov. 3 this year, thanks to the extension of one of its offerings. The festival typically presents 10 productions, an increase from the eight amateur performances of its first season more than a half century ago. The festival states that its focus is “inspired by the work of Bernard Shaw” and notes that it produces “plays from and about his era, and plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.”
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