by Shirley Lorraine
Romantic Repartee Rules Engaging Shaw at Elite
Can two self-confessed “anti-romantics” find ultimate happiness in marriage? In the period drawing room comedy Engaging Shaw now onstage at the Elite Theatre, this relationship quagmire is explored, dissected, challenged and delightfully portrayed.
The tightly written two-act play by John Morogiello incorporates bits of Shaw’s own writings as well as the Webb’s writings on the Fabian doctrine. It delves into confirmed bachelor George Bernard Shaw’s views on convention, institution, politics and conformity, among other themes and offers explanations clarifying his complicated relationship with Irish heiress Charlotte Payne Townsend.
Set in 19th century Britain, Shaw’s path to a brilliant writing career is given scrutiny as well as his involvement, along with the Webbs’, in the Fabian Society, a British socialist organization whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist efforts in democracy. But it is his views on women, relationships and marriage that take center stage.
Several elements set this production apart. Multiple award winning director Steve Grumette has created a visual delight in the physical setting depicting 19th century vintage. Incidental music is beautifully timed to accent verbal points and pauses to excellent effect. Costuming by Sheryl Jo Bedal is on point and flattering.
All the technical elements are top notch, producing a smooth result. Drawing room setting plays have a commonly difficult blocking task with inherently static action. In this production, a minimum of random movement from all but the Shaw character keeps the focus on him throughout.
The four actors in this play are all uniformly outstanding, bringing with them long lists of stage and other acting credits. The experience clearly shows in their tightly orchestrated portrayals. After a few initial moments of acclimating to the finely-tuned accents, the audience quickly becomes enamored by the ease with which they have assimilated themselves into their roles. At least I did.
George Bernard Shaw himself is played by Buddy Wilds. He easily conveys Shaw’s detached, self-absorbed and self-assured approaches to relationships and to life. His unconventional viewpoints are both endearing and frustrating to all he encounters.
Wilds is well matched by Anna Kotula as Charlotte Payne Townsend, both in determination and demeanor. Their spirited dialogue creates a virtuoso game of cat and mouse, with rapid-fire repartee and lively debate. Kotula certainly holds her own as her character goes toe-to-toe intellectually with Shaw.
Beatrice and Sidney Webb, close friends with whom Shaw resides much of the time, are played to perfection by Lee Ann Ivy and Paul Sulzman. As a happily married couple, they create an ideal counterpoint to Shaw’s arguments against the convention of matrimonial union. They embody the partnership which Shaw appears to eschew, and at the same time are role-models for the Shaw-Townsend relationship in the end.
Engaging Shaw offers a humor-filled glimpse into the mind of one of the worlds most celebrated playwrights. It is a delightful intellectual exercise for players and audience alike.
Engaging Shaw runs through May 21.
Friday & Saturday eves 8 PM,
Sunday matinees 2 p.m.
General admission $20. Seniors/Students/Military $17.
Reservations are encouraged. 483-5118
Elite Theatre Company,
2731 Victoria Avenue,
Channel Islands Harbor