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Nick Berry: Even a theater break not devoid of politics

I am reluctant to give my take on the upcoming city primary election, mostly because I know many of the candidates, who are running against other friends or acquaintances. That can wait.

So, here are some modest insights that struck me on a just-completed, theater-focused vacation in Canada. The Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake presents professional productions daily at a reasonable price. An added bonus: The setting is what many consider the most beautiful town in Canada.

We all know that interests and predilections guide our interpretation of events, whether politics, religion, sports or plays. I tend to see politics and government in many things, some quite off the wall.

For example, my book, “Almighty Matters: God’s Hidden Politics in the Bible,” published last year by Wipf and Stock, analyzed the Lord’s politics as presented in the Hebrew Bible and their connection to that in the Christian. Even though it got good reviews and had good endorsements on the back cover, it sold like a treatise on toothaches. That said, you can take what follows in the same vein.

The first play my wife and I saw was “Dancing at Lughnasa” by Brian Friel, a memory piece that starts in 1936 in rural, conservative and powerfully Catholic Ireland — not a happy culture for Friel. Kate, the oldest and most traditional of five sisters, lords it over her younger, radio-listening siblings, withholding her permission for them to go to the harvest dance celebration, with its dangerous mixing of the sexes. Two sisters eventually leave for England, with its more modern culture for women.

The play shows the ills of the marriage of church and state and the way politics and culture change from the impact of new media, affecting the young more than the old. (I’m still at a loss on how to use our new phone.)

We delighted in “Me and My Girl,” a musical with book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber that opened in London in 1985, ran for eight years there and later for three years on Broadway, winning two Olivier Awards and three Tony Awards.

The post-World War I setting is reminiscent of “Downton Abbey”: The plot about a working-class man who turns out to be the heir to a dead aristocrat depicts the erosion of a hidebound ruling class. But I’m sure most of the audience passed over the implications of the change in British politics and culture to enjoy the really entertaining music and the romantic plot.

Some people walked out from “Dracula,“ Liz Lochhead’s silly adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel. We stayed, and I thought: “My God, the Shaw Festival people picked it as a brilliant satire on President Donald Trump!” I’m sure I was the only one with this notion.

But think about it: Dracula is a commanding autocrat, not hesitant to use his enormous power to strike down those who oppose him. Sucking the blood of his innocent victims actually gains him supporters — you might see it as the equivalent of taxes and applause in today’s America. He operates only at night; light is his enemy, which eventually makes him vulnerable to the stake driven through his heart by the good guys. Transparency — what the sun reveals about him — leads to his demise.

In contrast, “Saint Joan” by George Bernard Shaw, is unmistakably political. Shaw, a socialist who had no use for organized religion, depicted the way Joan of Arc, by supporting the rise of Charles VII and overruling Charles’ own feudal retinue and the Catholic Church, earned herself accusations by these enemies of promoting “national-ism” and “protestant-ism” — political forces that would change the world.

Nick Berry is a Washington veteran who lives in Anne Arundel County. Contact him at jandnberry@msn.com.


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