Shows Worth Seeing:
By George Bernard Shaw
The Beckett Theatre
410 W. 42nd St.
More theater aficionados probably know the basic story of how Shaw began writing plays than know his first play: Widower’s Houses (1892). Working as theater critic for The Saturday Review, he feistily lamented that the English theater had no dramatists like Ibsen who combined entertainment with serious social critique and, prodded by his friend William Archer, he decided to supply such plays himself. Some of the 61 he went on to produce after that have become repertory staples, as we all know, but his very first effort has been quite neglected. This fine, smart production directed by David Staller makes a strong case for pulling it out more often, as it clearly possesses vivid theatrical life and its themes are delightfully current.
The story involves the engagement of an impoverished young aristocratic doctor to the daughter of a wealthy slumlord. When the doctor learns the nature of the girl’s father’s business, he is indignant and can no longer accept the marital quid pro quo that was planned—financial security for social position. Fascinatingly, the author of Major Barbara—modern drama’s most brilliant rumination on clean versus dirty money—doesn’t leave the conflict there. He adds a final act that turns the tables on everyone, forcing them to see the social questions from their opponents’ points of view. The strong actors playing the young couple—Jeremy Beck and Talene Monahon—are particularly delicious in this last section, whose wonderfully ambiguous loveplay requires mischievously sudden emotional reversals.