This year’s Shaw Festival lunchtime one-act, a swift Shavian delight called Village Wooing, is a successful participant in a favourite gimmick of today’s theatre, and a seeming particular favourite of the current festival leadership with both Game of Love and Chance and last season’s Everybody also taking part. Though an on-stage mechanism for selection isn’t shared in this production, the casting of this two-person romantic comedy is different at every performance with three actors prepared for each role and prepared to play opposite any of the three actors prepared for the other role. The remaining four serve as observers, stage hands, and the helpful hand of fate between their own chances to woo at other performances.
I feel extremely lucky to have drawn Kyle Blair and Donna Soares as the leading players at the performance I attended. Soares is having a fantastic season in roles where her straight-backed strength and intellectualism elevate rather than fight the text. Here she plays a role with slight manic pixie dream tendencies but her gravitas pulls the character right back down to earth and her incredible proficiency with lightning fast dialogue makes her leading lady irresistible.
Kyle Blair for his part delivers maybe his greatest heartthrob performance of all time, a particular feat in a straight play where he has no access to his strongest heartthrob superpower (his singing voice). The male character in Shaw’s wildly charming three-scene one-act has some spectacular speeches about love which Blair delivers beautifully without ever over-playing his hand (like Soares, he’s also particularly good with the quick text) but the true success of his performance comes in the subtleties- a smile to soften the teasing, the way he shifts his physicality over the course of the play to draw nearer to Soares.
It’s hard to imagine the other combinations of players to be honest. While I’m always curious to see the various possible combinations in a production with this gimmick, I suspect I may have just seen Village Wooing at its very best. Of course, maybe that’s the grand trick of director Selma Dimitrijevic’s simple but dynamic production. Maybe everyone believes they’ve seen the best, most special (and, by definition, magically fleeting) version. There’s no way to guarantee which performers you’ll see but I sincerely wish everyone could experience the enchantment of my hour spent watching Soares and Blair fall in love.