Thursday, May 31, 2007

Major Barbara (The SOB Review)

Major Barbara (The SOB Review) - McGuire Proscenium Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN

** (out of ****)

Oh, to be a critic at the New York Post, where I surely would have blared in my headline: "Major Bore-bara."

I realize it's completely unfashionable to dislike or disregard an esteemed work such as George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara. But to be frank, I found the current Guthrie revival directed by Lisa Peterson tedious and frustrating.

Three hours is a long slog to endure with all its moralizing and pontificating -- although note to Guthrie management: it did not help that all that hot air from the stage made the theatre itself unbearably suffocating. In a play where wealth is portrayed as god, can't you afford a little A/C?

Yes, Shaw points out the underlying hypocrisy that is inherent in many religions, and his points regarding poverty being society's biggest crime are well-taken. The manner in which he depicts how easily and willingly some men sell their souls for wealth is breathtaking and plays well even today when seemingly everyone wants his or her 15 minutes of fame and the fortune that goes along with that.

But his message that wealth is to be revered as the world's real savior is, in my humble estimation, both specious and overly cynical. Additionally, anyone seeking to draw allegories from this work to today's military industrial complex would be overanalyzing the play, which works best when Shaw's exceptional humor shines through.

Fortunately for anyone seeing the show, the cast is strong, led by a luminous Sarah Agnew in the title role of the Salvation Army soldier with aristocratic roots. She's supported very credibly by Paul O'Brien as her father Andrew Undershaft -- a man whose religion is his cannon factory.

Sandra Shipley is smart as the delusional Lady Britomart Undershaft, while Jonas Goslow amply provides desperately needed comic relief as the dim-witted Charles Lomax.

Neil Patel's set design -- particularly his visually arresting retro-futuristic munitions factory -- will certainly divert your attention. But just as Peterson's staging of factory workers rolling huge cannon balls up a giant incline turned from stunning to taxing, I was beginning to feel as though I was counting sheep -- all of which left me wishing I were already in bed.

Major Barbara plays through June 17.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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At 31 May, 2007, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

Deborah Kerr made her British film debut as "Jenny Hill" in the 1941 film adaptation of "Major Barbara". It's such a great story. Sorry this production didn't rank well.

At 31 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

You know, it started promising enough but just got knee-deep in it the further it went along. I was even captivated when I walked into the theatre to see this London-based show have its "Safety Curtain" enveloping the stage. Too bad.

At 01 June, 2007, Blogger Interval Drinks said...

The Orange Tree Theatre in London revived this recently as part of their season of works by Shaw and his contemporaries. It got solid reviews though it was the lesser known pieces that proved more interesting. It's a fine fringe venue should you ever get the opportunity to visit it.

At 01 June, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Natasha, I appreciate the heads-up on the Orange Tree Theatre! I should have stated in my review that George Bernard Shaw has written one of my all-time favorite plays, Pygmalion, which of course is being revived this fall on Broadway.

At 01 June, 2007, Blogger Statler said...

I'm much fonder of "Saint Joan" myself, which I never feel is performed enough. Currently debating if I can see the National Theatre production with Anne-Marie Duff this summer but don't want it to ruin wonderful memories of a production with Imogen Stubbs many years ago.

I've always found "Major Barbara" to be too "worthy" and overlong, but it should still be quality if done well.

At 24 November, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell everyone that the entire play
Saint Joan by GB Shaw is available here online free


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