Engaging Shaw is a fun-loving romp of a parlor comedy that hits its mark at Best Medicine. The script by John Morogiello imagines one of the truly most gifted social writers in history confronted with the embodiment of everything he has railed against, in the form of a woman who seems tailor made to fit him to a tee.
Sworn bachelor, known for causing women to swoon with adoration, the notorious George B. would flirt brazenly with no intention of anything more than an air kiss if that. Then here comes the lovely no nonsense Charlotte Payne-Townshend played winningly by Rebecca A. Herron who crosses paths with him, literally, while riding her bike. Just envisioning that early unwieldly contraptions with the large front wheel makes you wonder how anyone could stay atop at all. She hobbles in with his assistance and before you know it, he’s got his hands up her dress, examining her calf, totally clinically, but what a message! That’s the kind of writing John Morogiello is best known for – high wit that lets the sparks fly and settle where they may.
Director Stan Levin assures a steady pace and fun stylistics. For example, best bud Sidney Webb played by Terence Heffernan is a pontificating philosopher and has a distinctive bumbling walk. He ambles along even when helping to adjust the set between scenes and when bringing out the tea in a comical turn. Also telling is his extreme discomfort when he’s duty bound by his wife to confront Shaw about Charlotte’s entreaties to marry. Heffernan plays Webb so tied up in a knot from head to toe with facial grimace to match, that his physical maneuverings say it all. Men just don’t talk about stuff like that with their buds, not then, not now.
Melissa B. Robinson plays Webb’s loving wife/partner (see the show to understand the distinction) filled with layers of her own passions to muddle through. At some moments, her mind flutters in one direction, her heart in another and her facial expressions are stuck trying to reconcile everything in a nicely nuanced performance.
closes September 30, 2018
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Playwright Morogiello takes on Shaw himself, strutting galore, assured in his own self-righteous glorious verbiage. Every entrance, utterance and move reflects the self-aggrandizing, pompous though brilliant, social thinker, chuckling over his own clever ideas in one of his early works “The Philanderer.”
Herron plays Charlotte with a convincing light Irish brogue, and manners and expressions that steal the show. Charlotte has the unenviable task of convincing the man she loves to want to marry her. The two initially vowed to each other that they would never succumb to the archaic societal expectations of marriage. They prided themselves on being intellectually beyond all the trappings of the wedded permanent yoking, with Shaw at one point describing it as slavery.
Yet as Charlotte, a financially independent free-thinking liberated bicycling woman, stayed in their comfortable arrangement as his scribe and confidant, she began to realize that she did indeed want him to want her enough to pop the question. The bulk of the play then proceeds with their clever banter, including snippets of Shaw’s actual writings, and her insistence for a proposal all while he blisteringly retorts and resists until he admits that he’s healthier and happier with her at his side. The script cleverly keeps Charlotte from being a pining neglected cast off. Once Shaw makes his choice, then it’s clearly her choice to accept it.
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Lighting by Melissa Carter is incredibly effective given the challenges of the small space. In one scene the actors stand in various spots reciting their written letters and dramatic responses to each other, all nicely directed by Levin.
Costumes by Elizabeth Kemmerer were the most sophisticated I’ve seen from this little troupe, with Shaw in full knickers ensemble, ringed socks and all, reflecting his cavalier player style before settling in to a seriously tailored wool suit. Herron is striking in a multitude of shiny bustling skirts befitting a woman of means, and Robinson is similarly attired in a gorgeous lilac ensemble and wide brimmed elaborately designed hat a fit for a royal wedding.
The program’s historical commentary sheds light on Shaw, whom we know as an ethereal thinker. In no uncertain terms, the guy was a piece of work. He was vehement in taking sides, sometimes in the wrong direction, and notoriously pointed jabs and barbs at Anything in his path. Upon being awarded a Nobel prize for Literature (not for his plays) he quipped that it was “like throwing a lifeline to a drowning man who had already reached the shore.” Bringing a sense of humanity to such a character who finally has to admit his need for affection and love is precious.
With Engaging Shaw, Best Medicine, a company dedicated to presenting comedies, opens a fun-filled and entertaining second season proving that quality theater is possible with creativity, wit, and great casting—from its corner spot in the Mall.
Engaging Shaw by John Morogiello . Directed by Stan Levin . Starring: Terence Heffernan; Melissa B. Robinson; John Morogiello; Rebecca A. Herron . Set Design—John Morogiello . Light Design— Melissa Carter . Costume Designer— Elizabeth Kemmerer . Stage Manager—Karen Dugard . Produced by Best Medicine Rep Theater . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.