Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the Los Angeles premier of John Morogiello’s ENGAGING SHAW, a love story of sorts between a well-to-do Irish heiress and a well known playwright where the two take part in a game playing hard-to-get.
Jennifer Lynn Davis is Charlotte Payne-Townshend. She comes from a background where she lives a rather comfortable lifestyle. Grinnell Morris is George Bernard Shaw, a writer of plays. Although he is well respected both in his native country and beyond, his finances are much meager. He is presently writing another stage piece while being active in politics as a Fabian Socialist. He is staying in the cottage of Beatrice and Sidney Webb (Susan Priver and Warren Davis), good friends and founder of the political group Shaw subscribes to. He is keeping busy with his writings as he awaits for a theatre company to actually produce one of his works. Beatrice and Sidney invites Charlotte into their home to possibly have her become a benefactor to their political causes that promotes socialism. Once Charlottes encounters Shaw, she becomes quite impressed in this man, even calling him Bernie. Shaw, on the other hand, had a number of encounters of women within his background, even with a few ladies married and spoken for! He feels that he holds a superiority toward women, using the phrase superman–a term that would be used as the title of a future piece he would pen, “Men and Supermen”. However, Bernie doesn’t seem to care much for sex, perhaps suggesting that he doesn’t even want to “do it”! But the more Bernie talks about his domestic stand toward the opposite sex if not speaking for socialism, Charlotte’s desire becomes emotional stronger if not closer. It’s a classic example of the chase between a man and a woman or a woman and a man, set within the backdrop of Victorian-era England.
This play composed by playwright John Morogiello, whose writings last graced the Theatre 40 stage with The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart in 2016 (See review-Vol. 21-No. 47), is very witty and complete with sharp banter, especially with the verbs and such as spoken by Shaw. His character as portrayed by Grinnell Morris, shows himself as a man that knows where he stands, but delivers his methods in a way that is fit for the era of Victorian England. His delivery of being firm and to the point would be considered as aggressive at that time. Jennifer Lynn Davis as Charlotte Payne-Townshend also shows her place in society that is far from being “hoity-toity”. She isn’t stuck up per se, but she’s enough to keep following her Bernie with the notion that she would perhaps marry him. (She proposes!) Beatrice and Sidney Webb as played by Susan Priver and Warren Davis, appear as the supporting players that fields themselves as emotional support to Charlotte (via Beatrice) and Shaw. (Sidney and Shaw think politically alike!) But the real stars here are Charlotte and Shaw, as she attempts to get her man while Bernie attempts to get his man (himself), while awaiting to see his plays hit the floorboards.
Since this production is a period piece (1897 England), there is a lot of visuals to note along with the performance. Michele Young provides the period costumes, while Jeff G. Rack creates the sets that is just as charming and appealing as an English tea with biscuits (“cookies”) on the side.
Directed by Melanie MacQueen, ENGAGING SHAW is indeed engaging! It’s a romantic comedy for thinking folks. And unlike so-called “romcoms” of the present times, the notion of sex is more removed since in those Victorian times, nobody desired to admit that they wanted to ever “do it”! Of course, somebody has to “do it”! Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anyone left to see any of the Shaw plays that are still gracing a stage in some theatre located somewhere in this world. But for now, it’s Shaw the “superman” that’s being chased, far slower than a speeding bullet!