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Heartbreak House — Critic’s Pick 
Review by Rob Kendt, Back Stage West, October 17, 1996

Many worse things than George Bernard Shaw could have imagined have happened in this century since he wrote the gently apocalyptic reverie Heartbreak House in the aftermath of World War I. Bombs far greater than the ones that land at the play’s end not far from the fictional Shotover estate have been invented, used, stockpiled, and haggled over, and private capital has triumphed, not just in the Western democracies but globally.

But as despairing as this century might make Shaw - or us, for that matter - as long as there are Heartbreak revivals as glittering, piercing, and ruefully funny as the one now at the Colony, there is still some hope for civilization.

Director Jessica Kubzansky has taken what seems the best path for this late Shaw talkfest, downplaying naturalism and striking a tone that’s both more dream-like and more limpid. By dressing the play’s cranky patriarch, Captain Shotover (Robert Budaska), as a dead ringer for Shaw; by judiciously sprinkling some offstage action onto Susan Gratch’s multi-leveled, sky-blue set behind tall French windows, and by directing the first-rate cast to play its scenes with a poise and pace that suggests dancing (even when they’re seated), Kubzansky locates her staging in the same netherworld the play rightly inhabits - somewhere between a drawing-room comedy and a brilliant, rambling internal dialogue between the playwright and his demons.

Budaska makes a deliciously fusty but never cutesy Shotover, and Bonita Friedericy is an uncommonly sympathetic and spirited Ellie Dunn - the poor young miss invited by the captain’s free-spirited daughter Hesione (Laura Wernette) to their Sussex home to dissuade her from marrying a crude industry boss (John Ross Clark). In the orgy of indolence and effrontery that follows, wives are swapped, plots are hatched and just as quickly broken; above all, arguments about politics, both social and sexual, are waged wittily, savagely, and occasionally, touchingly.

Apart from the marvelous Budaska and Friedericy, standing out especially from a cast with no low points is Jodie Carlisle, who, as Hesione’s coquettish sister Addy, somehow makes hypocrisy both seductive and pathetic, dispatching little tantrums like involuntary twitches . Rand Ryan’s lighting complements Kubzansky’s dreamy, crepuscular vision, and Donna May’s costumes are astutely and subtly class-conscious. Whatever real heartbreaks we’ve seen outside the theatre walls in this century, onstage it’s a Shavian world, after all.
 
 

Copyright 1996 Drama-Logue
Reprinted with Permission
Heartbreak House at the Colony Theatre