Battle of wits

Theatre Three's Major Barbara marches in brisk Shavian step

One would assume, for instance, that Andrew the Warmongering Capitalist would rise up as the black-booted villain in the piece, but we understand that Shaw agrees poverty is a terrible sin and that being taught to earn a living wage is a more practical rescue for the desperate and destitute than Christian redemption. At the same time, the playwright hands Andrew enough rope to hang himself on the lofty platform of his own materialistic arrogance -- do world governments truly work because of this man's weaponry, or is he just a greedy slave to their bloodthirstiness? Andrew's blustery diatribes, while initially convincing because of their fatalism, eventually suggest the latter.

Major Barbara closes with a "happy" reconciliation that may truly make you scratch your head, if you thought the playwright was going to tell you, preschool teacher-style, which peg fits into which hole. Shaw has something to say about confusing good intentions and idealistic compromises. There is a misstep here and there in the performances of Theatre Three's production -- Amy Shoults as Barbara goes through the first act with an off-putting sunniness that feels like the easiest approach to this compulsive Samaritan (a tone of grim moralizing might work better, since characters with no sense of humor about themselves can create the best comedy), and Lem White is eventually consumed by his own jaw stretches while attempting a Cockney accent as a violent Salvation Army patron. Still, the ticketbuyer is not shortchanged any of Shaw's wit or his finespun arguments that weave in and out of one another in such surprising places. This show's best features are displayed by the actors in the two meatiest roles -- the commanding Kyle McClaran as Andrew and the irresistibly provincial Cecilia Flores as Lady Brit. Together, they deliver those lengthy Shavian sentences like dinnertime tricksters, yanking the cloth off the dining room table with glee but keeping the shiny silverware dialogue perfectly in place.

Kyle McClaran is a rich, reactionary arms manufacturer who must deal with a bleeding-heart daughter in Shaw's contentious 1905 comedy.
Kyle McClaran is a rich, reactionary arms manufacturer who must deal with a bleeding-heart daughter in Shaw's contentious 1905 comedy.

Details

Theatre Three,
2800 Routh St.
(in the Quadrangle)

(214) 871-3300

Through April 16

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