Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Widowers' Houses" ☼ ☼ ☼

George Bernard Shaw's "Widowers' Houses," which in 1892 was his first published play, explores themes he would develop in his later work: the plight of the working poor, relationships within the upper classes, and the realization that social change is difficult to achieve.

It's an entertaining farce. The cast, for the most part, is excellent. When we first see Meghan Trout as Blanche, she seems to be a typical upper-crust young Englishwoman abroad on holiday, but as the show proceeds her venal nature is pulled out of her. She coaxed the opening night audience into a satisfying hiss with her "I HATE the poor!"

Warren David Keith plays her father, Sartorius, a self-made man who knows he will never be accepted into the company of the well-born. He is, however, wealthier than any of them, due to his occupation as a London slumlord. Michael Gene Sullivan and Howard Swain share lickspittle duties, Sullivan as the wannabe upper-crust Cokane and Swain playing the show-stopping Lickcheese. Lickcheese is the common man -- think Eliza Dolittle's father -- except that in this case he turns into the equivalent of the modern techie. He enters in rags but returns in a sealskin coat, having figured out how to use the system to his advantage. This turns all the presumptions of the aristocracy upside down.

Costumes by Callie Floor are wonderful, especially with Lickcheese. "Widowers" is already a three-act play, but we would be happy to watch one more act with no one in it but Lickcheese.

Sarah Mitchell is always, always, always a fabulous comedic player. She can walk funny, talk funny, even have her face squeezed funny.

Our only caveat is although we are huge Dan Hoyle fans, we have trouble with him as leading man Dr. Trench. Hoyle can do wonderful things with his face by not saying a word, but for a man who has done solo shows using twenty characters and voices to match, his poor attempt at aristocratic English makes it hard to even understand, let alone identify with him. He seems like a spoiled teenager. Perhaps this is what GBS intended.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Widowers'' Houses" Three Stars. It is worth seeing. But the show is long and the payoff is tipped far in advance. Director Joy Carlin can do little to keep us from knowing early on where these characters will end up. No surprises here.

"Widowers' Houses"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Feb. 25

No comments: