Renée Bucciarelli was feeling like the world needed a little more joy, a little more lightness to dispel the dark – not just the weather but, well, everything.
“I sense people could use some warmth, some passion, some folly, some good laughs,” she says.
So when she was searching for ideas for a new production for City Stage New West, she hit upon the idea of George Bernard Shaw – at his funniest and most light-hearted.
She was eager to work at the historic Galbraith House again, since City Stage has always enjoyed staging productions there.
“I’ve had in the back of my mind that a Shaw play would be perfect for that space,” she says.
Hence Shaw Shorts!, an evening of theatre that features Shaw’s one-act play How He Lied To Her Husband, along with a theatrical staging of excerpts of some of the letters from Shaw’s scandalously famous love affair with theatre star Beatrice Stella Campbell. It takes to the stage at Galbraith House from Tuesday, Jan. 24 to Sunday, Feb. 5.
“It has been such a joyful process so far,” says Bucciarelli, taking a break from reading her scripts to chat about the upcoming production.
Bucciarelli is City Stage’s artistic director, but for this production she’s put on two other hats: as an actor, and as a writer, having adapted Shaw’s historical correspondence into Love Letters To Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
That it’s busy is undeniable, but Bucciarelli couldn’t be more thrilled about the chance to work with two actors she respects: Luc Roderique, who was onstage as Othello with Bard on the Beach this past summer, and Simon Webb, a veteran actor who has been seen on many Vancouver stages, with whom Bucciarelli worked on a production of King Lear with the Honest Fishmongers co-op.
They’re directed by Laura McLean, an up-and-coming, award-winning director whom Bucciarelli describes as “young and brilliant.”
All three actors are onstage for How He Lied To Her Husband – a comedy that centres around a middle-aged coquette (Bucciarelli), her well-to-do husband (Webb) and a young and handsome man with whom she has a flirtation (Roderique).
“It’s a real bedroom farce. It’s almost Oscar Wilde, really,” Bucciarelli says, noting it features “people running in and out of doors” and “topsyturvyness here, there and everywhere.”
“I’m just having a ball,” she adds with a laugh.
Bucciarelli and Webb then team up for the Love Letters production – based on a real-life, 40-year correspondence between Shaw and Beatrice Stella Campbell, who was an actor, producer and director and a high-powered woman in Victorian theatre circles.
“She really had chops,” Bucciarelli says, the admiration clear in her tone.
Complicating the matter, of course, is the fact that Shaw was married – his wife Charlotte was a suffragette, and both she and Shaw were politically outspoken.
Which made the fact that Shaw fell head over heels for Campbell more than a little bit complicated.
“He was completely smitten,” Bucciarelli says, noting that Shaw’s reputation as a cool and rational man is put to the test in their correspondence. “The letters he writes to her are just unbelievable. He is a puddle.”
Campbell’s letters are more reserved, she says, but adds with a laugh, “They are more titillating in the dot-dot-dot-ness of them.”
Though a decade-long love affair between the two eventually ran its course, they remained friends for a further 30 years. But it’s the 10 years of that love affair that are the focus of Bucciarelli’s production – and no, no spoilers about what may or may not happen between the two.
She will say they’re “catalytic, exciting, passionate, tormented and funny.”
What captured Bucciarelli’s imagination, and what she’s hoping audiences will enjoy, is the tie-in between the real-life relationship revealed in the letters and the relationship Shaw creates in How He Lied To Her Husband.
“This completely informs what’s going on in the other play,” she says. “There is a very clear tie-in.”
And yes, that’s all you’re getting. Any other plot points will only be revealed to those who turn out to enjoy a night of theatre in the “sumptuous” surroundings of Galbraith House.
With seating for 40 audience members, the intimate surroundings will bring people right into the action.
Add in the Victorian costuming by Laura Fukumoto, and the audience will feel they have simply stepped into Shaw’s world.
“People will be flies on the wall,” Bucciarelli says. “It will be just right in the period, transporting you, to just walk in.”
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: Shaw Shorts!, featuring work by George Bernard Shaw, by City Stage New West
WHERE: Galbraith House, 131 Eighth St., New West
WHEN: Jan. 24 to Feb. 5, with evening shows Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., plus 2 p.m. matinees on Jan. 23, 29, Feb. 4 and 5
TICKETS: $20 student/senior and $25 regular, buy through shawshorts.brownpapertickets.com