George Bernard Shaw used to be a near-constant presence on Broadway. Now he’s history. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “Heartbreak House” is only the second Shaw play (not counting “My Fair Lady”) to be seen there since 1993. Could it be that American audiences have finally tired of the garrulous Irishman who devoted his long life to telling the world how to fix itself? Perhaps–but I hope not. Though Shaw could be a frightful bore, his best plays have remained vibrantly stage-worthy, and “Heartbreak House,” the oddest and least characteristic of them, has grown ever more contemporary in the 86 years since it was first performed on Broadway. This production features some fine acting, and if the overall results are no better than goodish, Shaw’s intentions still come through clearly.
Shaw called “Heartbreak House” “a fantasia in the Russian manner on English themes,” by which he meant to suggest a resemblance to the rambling, atmospheric plotlessness of the plays of Chekhov. (Most of Shaw’s own plays, by contrast, are linear to a fault.) It starts off, however, in the cozy manner of a good old-fashioned weekend-in-the-country comedy, the kind in which unsuspecting visitors to an English country house find themselves swept up in amusing romantic hijinks. But Captain Shotover (Philip Bosco), the octogenarian sailor whose living room looks strangely like the stern gallery of a sailing ship, is half-senile–or seems to be–and the other members of his family turn out to be as amusing as a basketful of unfed snakes….
If you think Broadway doesn’t produce enough unfunny comedies of its own, you’ll be happy to hear that Simon Mendes da Costa’s “Losing Louie” has made its way from London to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Biltmore Theatre, where it came perilously close to putting me to sleep….
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