by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
Heartbreak House--- Shaw's House On the rocks.
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Robin Lefevre
The Roundabout Theater Company
American Airlines Theater
West 42 Street
Opened October 11, 20006
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden October 15, 2006
Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House" received excellent notices from most of the critics, so one was very anxious to see this all star cast. But lets get to the point. This play lasts close to three hours and there is virtually no action on the stage. A group of actors either stand, sit, or lie on a couch and talk--and talk, talk, talk.
Shaw seemed not able to make up his mind if he were writing a political harangue or just a drawing room comedy with the usual weekend guests who represent certain characteristics of upper class life. To be sure he makes fun of all the characters with their search for money and power, but the story is convoluted and difficult to follow. A group of eccentrics--zany relatives and old friends gather at the home of Captain Shotover. All of them are somehow entangled with each other, and all of them are types. There is the young ingenue "poor girl" out to marry the rich Mr. Mangan, a lout and a bore; there is the wayward daughter who doesn't seem to know what she wants; there is the controlling daughter whose husband philanders around with all and everyone; there are several other misfits who amble in and out of the living room, slamming doors, posing in doorways, strutting about in attractive costumes and trying hard to depict the upper classes of Britain. Supposedly World War I is imminent but nothing is mentioned about it, until the end. One doesn't need to read Shaw's famous essays to get what he was driving at: a satire of the upper classes, however unclear. But the British weekend with zany guests sitting around talking stupidly about their useless lives, while the world is crashing around them has been done better in the movies and on PBS' Masterpiece Theater. Why sit in a theater three interminable hours to listen to all this so-called sophisticated talk. We have seen it all. And heard it all. Besides Shaw is not a graceful stylist. His language is actually prosaic and ineffective though he thought he was better than Shakespeare.
At any rate the narrative is inconsequential because the actors are like mannequins, running on and off the set, or lying around on couches, or indicating so called witty lines, or just yapping, yapping , yapping. What we see are typical American actors trying to talk British, and trying to behave as though they are in a Noel Coward comedy of manners. The actors have not got the charisma needed to deliver the goods. With poor voices and lack of personal charm, no one stood out. Swoosie Kurtz, an accomplished actress in a red fright wig tries to be glamorous but that red rag on her head was hard to take. Philip Bosco, in full white beard, leader of the bunch, is unable to do anything more than shout and make quick exits. Lily Rabe as the poor-me girl has a dreadful whining voice, while complaining about her low station in life; Laila Robins, attempts to be a British femme fatal but her effort at high style is unoriginal.
After all is said and done, what is Shaw's point? England was on the rocks, the house was shaken, the aristocracy is corrupt, everyone is interested in money and power. Still there will always be an England. (Tell me something new) Even at the end of the play with its poor sound effects of bombs falling and lights flickering on and off, World War I has started nothing is believable. By that time one is exhausted; all one wants to do, is get out, find a cab and be quiet after this interminably boring production.
Please--if you want to do Shaw, chose one of his better plays and a cast that can cope with his style.
Margaret Croyden's most recent book is "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000" published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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