Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reviews: (Shaw Festival) Heartbreak House; On The Rocks

Politicians making speeches they cannot deliver on. Police cracking heads. Chekhov. Burglars. It's Shaw Fest!
by Byron Toben

A minority government. Economic downturn. Unemployed masses marching in the streets. Proroguing Parliament. Politicians making speeches they cannot deliver on. Police cracking heads. Sounds like current events?

Such is the situation in G. Bernard Shaw's 1933 verbal fireworks play of paradox, wit and hypocrisy, ON THE ROCKSThis rollicking revival, playing at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake even has photos of the G-20 debacle in Toronto in the program. Canadian playwright Michael Healy has rearranged the sequence of the acts and introduced a few Trudeau references to the Prime Minister…”Just watch me”...lost on the largely American audience.

The rest of Shaw's 61 plays were written during a one or two year span. HEARTBREAK HOUSE, which he subtitles “A Fantasia in the Russian Manner On English Themes” (Chekhov, anyone?), had a longer gestation period, from 1913 to 1919. The glittering liberal humanism of his earlier 40 plays turns dark here as airship bombs - echoing the recent war - are almost welcomed as a cleansing of a house witnessing fraud, illicit affairs and frivolous pursuits. The house, built as Shaw instructed, to resemble the after part of an old fashioned high pooped ship was considered  by some expert viewers who have seen this classic many times to be too overwhelming. It was a bit...but as Mr Hamlet Prince once observed, "The play's the thing". Echoes of King Lear are ancient mariner with three daughters but - credit Shakespeare or Chekhov - it's  definitely Shaw with a ruthless capitalist, a bungling burglar, a take charge housekeeper, a naïve poet and a practical “new” woman. 

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