Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Widowers' Houses

Last night I saw the first performance of George Bernard Shaw's Widowers' Houses at the Beckett Theatre. This co-production by The Actors Company Theatre and Gingold Theatrical Group is a must-see event.

The play sparkles under the deft direction of David Staller, who chooses to have actors sometimes remain on stage, sitting to the side while a scene continues without them. This device, coupled with Brian Prather's open and airy set, makes the audience constantly aware of the act of observation, the act of judging.

Prather's set evokes a line from the play spoken by Dr. Harry Trench: "People who live in glass houses have no right to throw stones. But, on my honor, I never knew that my house was a glass one until you pointed it out." This is a play that doesn't let anyone get away clean. Everyone is implicated in the corruption and immorality of slum landlordism, the audience included.

Jeremy Beck (who memorably portrayed a haywire nanobot in Jan Buttram's comedy The President and Her Mistress) plays Trench, a young physician who falls in love while vacationing in Germany. His beloved (played with coy elegance by Talene Monahon) is Blanche Sartorius, who seems the perfect match. The only problem is her rich father (played by the formidable Terry Layman) is concerned Trench's family might object to the marriage. Who could possibly object to a connection to such a wealthy, elegant family?

The answer lies in the Sartorius fortune, and from whence that money is derived. Sartorius, who is far from an attractive figure, sets about to teach the young doctor a lesson in how the world really works. It is part of Shaw's brilliance that he makes Sartorius's arguments as unpalatable as they are logically irrefutable.

Romance is the great complication in this morality tale of greed and real estate, and Blanche reveals herself to be not nearly as simple as she first appears. In this production, I found myself wanting to urge Trench to flee from her over-the-top manipulations, but as Shaw writes in the play's stage directions, "ferocity is erotic" and the good doctor is doomed.

A surprise standout performance comes from Hanna Cheek, who plays a plucky German waitress in the first act and the Sartorius's put-upon parlourmaid in the rest of the play. Cheek milks both roles for all they're worth, but without ever upstaging her fellow performers.

Widowers' Houses is playing until April 2. For more information, check out:

The Actors Company Theatre