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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER On The Rocks
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
2003-11-12

This article shared 3322 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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Playwright: George Bernard Shaw

At: ShawChicago at the Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph St.

Phone: ( 312 ) 409-5605; free

Runs through: Nov. 24

A fully mounted production would be an evening at the theatre requiring overnight lodgings. On The Rocks, even in ShawChicago's chamber reading, runs nearly three hours. But just as we begin to wonder why Shaw thought he had to resolve ALL the world's problems in a single play, damned if the author doesn't wrap the whole jumble up in a neat package that puts everything into perspective.

Sir Arthur Chavender, the British Prime Minister, is teetering on the edge of burnout. Economic Depression engendered by World War I continues to cripple the nation. Idle laborers are growing restless, riots are frequent, and government officials fear a wholesale revolution like that in Russia only recently. ( The year is 1933, by the way. ) Even Chavender's own son and daughter are showing signs of imminent rebellion, while his wife hints that he spends too much time on the job. A visit from a charismatic guru finally convinces him to embark on a contemplative retreat, taking with him for recreational reading the books of a controversial young philosopher named Karl Marx.

How does a country fall into such suicidal despair that it allows—even welcomes—inhumane agendas? How does the allure of despotism seduce otherwise rational men into compliance? Could Civilization As WE Know It go the way of Czarist Russia or Nazi Germany? Shaw explores all these questions in a dramatic essay only superficially resembling a play despite a generous sprinkling of the author's characteristic witticisms.

But it is not the one-liners, nor the flashes of relevance ( the warning against electing movie stars to political office, for example ) that hold our attention even during discussions of matters nowadays important only to historical scholars. For this big-cast production inaugurating ShawChicago's tenth season, director Robert Scogin has assembled a superlative cast of seasoned Shavians, led by Duane Sharp—whose high color and acrobatic eyebrows convey more information about his persona than a ream of expository text—as the harried Chavender. The supporting players are likewise uniformly capable, from veteran ensemble members Terence Gallagher, Alyson Green and Michael McAlister to newcomers Linda Gillum and David Skvarla ( the latter sporting a first-rate Hindi accent, courtesy of Belinda Bremner, appearing as the placid Lady Chavender ) .


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