Heartbreak House at Writers’ Theatre | Theater review
Shaw’s sly faux-trifle feels eerily, maddeningly modern in this expert Writers’ revival.
The year Shaw was born, Charles Dickens was churning out Little Dorrit, the Crimean War was grinding to a halt and the Republican Party ran its first candidate for U.S. President. Though the playwright’s tireless flow of epigrams and earnestly didactic spirit can make him seem indeed like an emissary from the distant past, what’s astonishing, and maybe a little depressing, is how contemporary his vigorous attacks on class divisions, imperialism and general human stupidity remain. His modernity is nowhere more apparent than in this brilliant 1919 response to World War I, an almost Altmanesque construction of intersecting love plots presided over by the dotty, philosophical Captain Shotover (John Reeger). With a humane perversity, Shaw makes his blustering, piggish capitalist Boss Mangan (John Lister) the play’s most sympathetic character and dismantles his elaborate plot in an audacious, furious denouement. All along, the play’s argument with Shavian adversary Shakespeare could keep Harold Bloom in business for decades.
A lush garden setting devised by Keith Pitts dominates the Writers’ production, inviting the audience to share in the Shotover clan’s delusions of pastoral safety. Brown and his strong cast handle the play’s intricate counterpoint masterfully; besides stellar work by Reeger and Lister, Karen Janes Woditsch is a nuanced, commanding Hesione Hushabye, and Martin Yurek hilarious as her daffy husband, Hector.