WINDY CITY TIMES
||John Bull's Other Island
Playwright: George Bernard Shaw
by Mary Shen Barnidge
This article shared 1228 times since Wed Sep 12, 2001
For the 1904 inauguration of Ireland's Abbey Theatre, its founders requested George Bernard Shaw to write them a play celebrating the Irish culture and character. The result was John Bull's Other Island, the tale of a naive Englishman so enamored of the Emerald Isle that he vows to assist its economy, only to have his largess met with a less than enthusiastic response from the recipients. This plot, of course, is only a pretext for Shaw's witty commentary on the foibles of both his Anglo and Celtic countrymen...satire as acerbic as the play's production costs were prohibitive, leading the Abbey to decline their benefactor's offer.
While Shaw's views on English chauvinism and Irish Defeatism raise no hackles today, his play's physical problems have not diminished. Irish Repertory director Lawrence MacGowan's solution is to have his actors recite the author's elaborate descriptions of locales and citizens, Story Theatre-style, while the action transpires on an almost-bare stage carpeted with a map of the realms in question. But little can be done about the sheer length of the text, clocking in at three hours even with players sprinting through their speeches at a speed that, though not impeding enunciation, leaves inadequate time for interpretive inflection on the part of the speakers or lucid apprehension on that of the audience.
With most of the personnel thus forced into glib artificiality, Bill McGough's leisurely portrayal of the idealistic Peter Keegan would take center stage even if Shaw had not intended it to do so. Robert Kaercher, as the enterprising industrialist who loves the unspoiled beauty of foreign lands and can't wait to start spoiling it, delivers a muscular performance infused with sufficient charm to defuse his character's imperialistic views ( disturbingly close to those practiced by our own government ) .
Tom Bateman, as the native son fleeing his homeland, likewise makes a valiant case for the expatriate life, while Danne W. Taylor, Jim Morley and Steve Emily contribute a comprehensive portrait of the Hibernian status quo. But it is Keegan's humanitarian
This article shared 1228 times since Wed Sep 12, 2001
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