Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw – Overly Long Mind Play

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How it’s New York: Gingold Theatrical Group and Pearl Theatre Company are New York based companies.
©Richard Termine

©Richard Termine

How it’s Irish: George Bernard Shaw is an Irish playwright.

George Bernard Shaw’s usual big themes of class, war and wealth were on the menu for the evening at (Project Shaw)  Gingold’s collaboration with the Pearl Theatre at their space on 42nd Street.

The play is a big one – seventeen characters and, in the case of this production, two hours and twenty minutes of Shaw’s witticisms and philosophical mind play.

Nine actors doubled, and in some cases trebled, for the amalgam of upper and working class characters, using changes of costume and accents, which were not fully convincing for the most part ~ the switch between accents proved too challenging for most of the cast. Perhaps aided by the fact that they didn’t have to play multiple roles, Hannah Cabell (Barbara) and Richard Gallagher (Cusins) were delights to watch for the most part and were worth seeing this production for.

To begin with, the actors were  stiff and some made their entrances as if they hadn’t rehearsed them. Dan Daily (playing Andrew Undershaft) walked onto the stage as if, well, he was walking onto a stage, and not into a 19th-century drawing room. His  eldest and most precious offspring, Barbara, let us know loudly and clearly, that she was a powerful woman when she almost bellowed her first few lines. Things settled down as everyone grew more comfortable in the space, or perhaps in Barbara’s case, we got used to her voice.

The Victorian set (by James Noone) was beautiful – blacks and golds for the  living room scenes, with reds added for the munitions factory/model town scenes – most noteworthy of which was a completely gold bouquet.

This production is an extended one, as explained by Gingold’s Artistic Director and Director of the show, David Staller, in the talkback after Tuesday’s performance. A George Bernard Shaw connoisseur, he told the small group that hung back for the talk that he burrowed through Shaw’s handwritten notes and numerous versions of the play, as well as screenplays, and used them to create this (overly long, in my opinion) revival.

In spite of my reservations about this production, you have to love Shaw and his astute view of people and society. Here are a few nuggets from ‘Major Barbara’.

Andrew Undershaft about his young and hapless son:
“He knows nothing, yet he thinks he knows everything. He will make a perfect politician.”

And his idea of the seven deadly sins:

“Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children.”

If he was alive and living in modern Ireland, he may well have included water on the list.

The production is playing until December 14th at Pearl Theatre on 42nd at Eleventh Avenue.

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Copyright 2014 New York Irish Arts