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
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
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.
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
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
not to recognize her, apparently because she had committed the
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
Kaine), feeling that marrying for money is smarter than marrying for
love. Meanwhile, Hector makes a play for his sister-in-law, Lady
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
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
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
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
Edgerstoune Road, 609-397-7331. Performances continue through
December 2. $12.
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