I went to see Major Barbara by Shaw at the Washington Stage Guild yesterday.

I had mixed feelings about going to the show, because Shaw is someone whose "plays" are interesting to read but which I've always found deadly dull on the stage. The ones I've seen in the
past are more like debates than  plays. In addition, the play was being performed "in the round"; I always dislike this kind of staging because, although the theory is that every seat is equally good ,
I've always found that at an in-the-round theater every seat is equally bad. But since I was seeing the show at an off off off Broadway [i.e. cheap] theater and I had a half price ticket, all I was
going to be risking was my time and energy so I decided to give Shaw another chance.

The play was performed at one of the three or four small theaters on upper 14th Street that usually present either experimental plays or else standard plays in unusual productions. Because
the theater is so small, the arena type stage wasn't as distracting as I usually find it.

I was very happily surprised by the first two acts; each moved the plot along and had outstanding acting. There was basically a different set of characters in the second act than in the first one but
all the roles were played by the same actors. This gave the actors a chance to shine and show off, showing that they could perform, for example,  both an upper class twit as well a vulgar thug or
else a butler as well as a striving worker. When I went through the playbill , I noticed that almost all of the actors were Equity. They're below in the attachment.

Unfortunately, the third act opened. This was the terrible Shaw that I remembered from the past. Debate, exposition, debate, declaiming words, debate, oratory, debate etc. etc. . The third act seemed to go on forever, although the entire play was only 3 1/2 hours.

The main theme running  through the play was civic morality, here by the example of the role of arms merchants to society. The background notes to the play made much of the "industrial military complex" and the pertinence of the play today. I have doubts about that but the theme of the play did remind me of something else.

Two to three years after World War I ended -- this play, however, was written around 1910 -- people began learning about the true causes of World War I. In the United States,  the role of the Wall Street financiers supporting France and England became known -- financial support before we were involved, which then in turn required United States intervention to protect the investments. Building up through the 1920s and 30s there was a widespread popular antiwar feeling throughout the world, and very strong in our country. It appeared in novels like What Price Glory or All's Quiet on the Western Front; in the Gershwin musical satires like Of Thee I Sing and Let Them Eat cake; in all the many socially conscious writings on the evils of war, etc. It was a
period when mass culture was strongly against involvement in any kind of war. A lot had to be done to reverse that to allow us our entry into World War II.

All in all it was worthwhile to have seen the play, mainly for the acting, but I suspect I won't be eager to go to another Shaw play for a while. As a passing note: the play is concerned with morality and the Salvation Army runs through the entire play. In spite of that , the word "God" was used only once and that was a citation

 

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