Paul Myrvold’s Theatre Notes: Engaging Shaw

That George Bernard Shaw is one of the greatest men of letters in the English language is beyond dispute. Some rank him above Shakespeare as a dramatist; certainly he wrote more plays than the immortal Bard. He was politically active in the Fabian and Socialist movements of his time, and was also a highly regarded music and drama critic. His slim volume The Perfect Wagnerite is a brilliant introduction to the music of Richard Wagner. He was also attracted to women, and they to him. He famously maintained an intimate correspondence with Ellen Terry, the foremost actress of her time.

John Morogiello’s play, Engaging Shaw, dramatizes in two acts the meeting and the development of a relationship between Shaw (Grinnell Morris) and Charlotte Payne-Townshend (Jennifer Lynn Davis), which was sparked when they were introduced by their mutual friends Beatrice (Susan Priver) and Sidney Webb (Warren Davis) at the Webb’s cottage in Stratford. Charlotte was Irish like Shaw, and like Shaw was political and unmarried. But unlike Shaw, she was wealthy, an heiress of considerable means. Charlotte was independent and past the first bloom of youth. She was near forty and Shaw was a year-and-a-half older. In fits and starts, they developed a deep and abiding relationship, each intellectually capable and collaborative. But there were also deep and irascible conflicts on the part of both individuals, each of whom had their own notions of what a man/woman relationship should be. How these two fascinating individuals continually come together, part and return like ocean waves pounding coastal rocks, is “the two hour traffic” of the play.

Engaging Shaw, directed by Melanie Macqueen, is a blend of romantic and drawing room comedy. Grinnell Morris delivers a cocksure Shaw with style and Jennifer Lynn Davis as Charlotte delivers the emotion and passion of the relationship. Warren Davis as Sidney and Susan Priver as Beatrice carry the comedy.

The show is handsomely mounted with an excellent set by Jeff G. Rack, which is lit by Ric Zimmerman. Costuming by Michèle Young supports period and character. Sound designer Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski slips in some amusing, anachronistic music in the intervals. Don Solosan manages the stage and calls the cues.