Corrections or additions?

This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the November 22, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Heartbreak House’

We have been too long here. We do not live in this

house: we haunt it," says George Bernard Shaw’s character Hector

Hushabye. Shaw wrote "Heartbreak House" in 1916 and 1917,

as the fighting of the First World War raged throughout Europe. He

withheld it from production, however, until after the hostilities

were over.

As Shaw explains in a typically long-winded preface: "When men

are heroically dying for their country, it is not the time to shew

their lovers and wives and fathers and mothers how they are being

sacrificed to the blunders of boobies, the cupidity of capitalists,

the ambition of conquerors, the electioneering of demagogues."

A few paragraphs later, he adds a more practical argument, the fact

that the outcome of the war was very much in doubt. "The Germans

might on any night have turned the last act from play into earnest,

and even then not have waited for their cues."

"Heartbreak House," produced by Westwind Repertory, opened

at the Hun School last week where weekend performances continue

through

Saturday, December 2. The play is Shaw’s indictment of the educated,

leisure classes of England whom he held effectively responsible for

the war. This due to their penchant for living in a self-satisfied

world of their own doughy concerns, willfully ignorant of the demands

and realities of the world around them.

The people who occupy George Bernard Shaw’s "Heartbreak House"

are self-deluded, obsessed with their petty love intrigues, imaginary

duels, and the value of their own incessant bellybutton gazing.

(Incidentally,

grab your remote and take a spin through your cable TV line-up if

you still wonder whether Shaw’s play remains relevant today.)

Ellie Dunn (Tammy Koehler), a poor but beautiful young

lady, arrives at the country home of Mrs. Hushabye for what she

expects

to be a social gathering. She is immediately disappointed as Mrs.

Hushabye is nowhere to be found. Instead, Ellie is confronted by a

nurse named Guinness (Kathy Garofano) who insists on addressing her

as "ducky," and then by Mrs. Hushabye’s rickety old father,

Captain Shotover (Mort Paterson), who stumbles in, insisting that

he knew her father many years before on the high seas, and that her

father also happened to have been a thief.

Soon Lady Utterword (Barbara Hatch) breezes in. She is Mrs. Hushabye’s

long-lost sister, as well as the Captain’s youngest daughter. He

pretends

not to recognize her, apparently because she had committed the

unforgivable

sin of having once married an ultraconservative politician. When Mrs.

Hushabye (Janet Quatarone) finally appears, sparks fly, and we learn

that she has a rather unconventional marriage, allowing her husband

Hector (Nicholas Andrefsky) free-rein with any attractive ladies who

happen to tread his path, as well as being one terrific flirt herself.

From there we become snarled in enough amorous intrigues to keep three

octopi busy. But this being Shaw, such amorous negotiations come in

the form of incessant talk. Ellie falls for Hector, and Hector toys

with Ellie, but she soon finds out exactly who he is and decides to

focus her attentions instead on the business tycoon, Boss Mangan

(Curtis

Kaine), feeling that marrying for money is smarter than marrying for

love. Meanwhile, Hector makes a play for his sister-in-law, Lady

Utterword,

and Boss Mangan falls under the amatory twinklings of Mrs. Hushabye.

Even Ellie’s father, Mazzini Dunn (Brian A. Bara), a man of great

mushy-headed respectability, is tempted by her charms.

While all this is happening in the parlor room of "Heartbreak

House," a war is raging in the outside world. But Shaw’s

characters

remain untouched in their insular world until the evening when the

war lands on their doorstep in the form of an air-raid. Two men are

killed. Yet still, to this group, it remains an amusement, a reprieve

from boredom. They even hope for a repeat performance tomorrow.

"Heartbreak House" is a long play; Westwind’s production runs

three hours and seems it. While some scenes are engaging and zip along

like a dirt bike, others seem to wallow in the mud for hours. Dale

Simon directs best when his stage is crowded. With three or more

actors

on stage he gets them to snap off dialogue and nimbly move around

like some weird combination game of pinball and chess. All actions

seem precise and purposeful, allowing the humor of the play to really

reach the audience.

The production bogs down, however, in numerous two-character scenes

when all action stops. These characters do nothing but sit, talk,

shift in their seats, explain, discuss, cross their legs, talk some

more; once, surprisingly, eat an apple. (Three cheers for the apple.)

The cast for "Heartbreak House" are all talented experienced

actors. But even they seemed to need a nap by the time 11 o’clock

started to roll around.

The real stars of the play are M.A. Young’s set design, a remarkably

agile ship-like interior, and Melissa Updegraff Wyatt’s beautifully

authentic costumes. Both employ hues of deep browns, pale reds, and

black that do much to set the mood and keep the ship afloat.

Watching "Heartbreak House" is a little like watching a

baseball

game go deep into extra innings. At a certain point, you no longer

care who wins, you just look forward to an ending.

— Jack Florek

Heartbreak House, Westwind Repertory, Hun School,

Edgerstoune Road, 609-397-7331. Performances continue through

Saturday,

December 2. $12.


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