Closeup/Theatre

The ‘Star’ Wars

SANDRA PEREDO July 25 1977
Closeup/Theatre

The ‘Star’ Wars

SANDRA PEREDO July 25 1977

The ‘Star’ Wars

It might have been written by the great GBS himself: An emancipated woman pursuing an honest career; a powerful newspaper defending its responsibility to keep that power; a theatre company devoted to a long-gone playwright and period; unfavorable reviews and mutual accusations of “prejudice and paranoia”; everyone spouting one-liner morality before the final curtain.

Act I: Before the 1976 Shaw Festival opens, Toronto Star drama critic Gina Mallet considers the season’s choice of plays and finds it wanting. Without attending the festival, Mallet—fresh from six years’ showbiz writing for Time magazine in New York—damns it for “drifting along with no clear commitment to Shaw himself.” The festival is outraged. Executive director Richard Kirschner writes heated letter to Star. “Insecure,” retorts Mallet. “In Time terms, that piece was like a kiss." Hostile purse-lipped reviews of the 1976 season (150,000 patrons, one million dollars gross) follow.

Act II: Late summer, 1976. The Shaw Festival withdraws all its advertising from

the Star (Saturday circulation: 780,000), stops issuing press tickets, invites, news handouts. For the festival, the Star ceases to exist.

Act III: Early summer 1977. Still no invites for the Star. Mallet goes to the festival anyway—and reviews (ultimate no-no) previews.More Time-style kisses. Festival bosses keep their fuming to themselves; after all, the Star no longer exists. Toronto Globe and Mail drama critic John Fraser sniffs: ‘'The festival should be above it. By worrying so much, they’re turning a critic into a star.” Standoff, but pressure builds.

Epilogue: Earlier this month. In New York recuperating from mild heart attack festival executive director Kirschner happens to watch Clive Barnes on TV. Barnes, exiting drama critic for The New York Times, claims: “Critics are human.” Scales fall from Kirschner’s eyes. Later, with the help of a lawyer, Kirschner meets Mallet in the Edwardian Room of the very Shavian Plaza hotel. Over a lunch of cold seafood à la Thames and cool white wine, the year-long differences are forgotten. Mallet’s back on the freebie list, the Star exists again. Mallet-Kirschner chorus: “We acted as human beings, not as insti-

tutions.” Exeunt left.

SANDRA PEREDO