BWW Reviews: ACT's MAJOR BARBARA a Major Triumph
Politics and humor go hand in hand throughout George Bernard Shaw's classic, but rarely performed "Major Barbara." Shaw's work includes, not the kind of politics and humor that lends itself to one side mocking another, but English wit that bookends passionate speeches and dialogue. Although Shaw's socialist position likely influenced the topics he chose to address and his desire to provoke action, here his script allows each character his or her fair argument.
Morals remain ambiguous, however, making "Barbara" less about a woman and her religion and more about right and wrong in general. When Barbara's weapons dealing father offers a large donation to the Salvation Army shelter in her charge, does taking the money equal hypocrisy? What exactly does it mean to save a man's soul? And who really needs saving? Can one live in the real world and still hold to ideal dreams? The many points worthy of consideration come at a rapid pace, particularly in the play's third act.
The new American Conservatory Theatre co-production with Canada's Theatre Calgary features a near flawless cast to match Shaw's brilliant script, although there were a few stumbled lines at Friday night's performance. Dean Paul Gibson's unashamed capitalist Andrew Undershaft is immediately likeable and persuasive as he invites his family to his clean factory town and aims to convince Barbara's fiancé (Bay Area favorite Nicholas Pelczar as the sweet, conscience-driven Adolphus Cusins) to become the "foundling" heir to his industry. Gretchen Hall is convincing in the title role and possesses a charming smile and genuine care for those in need of "salvation," but her character's conviction is less memorable in light of a dawdling second act. Kandis Chappel carries the show's comedy as Lady Britomart Undershaft, commanding the stage as well as her character commands her relatives.
The remaining supporting actors spend much of "Barbara" sitting in observation, although the men have a few bits of unforgettable absurdity. Stafford Perry's Stephen Undershaft begins as a complete momma's boy and hopes to enter a field he has no knowledge of whatsoever, while his sister's fiancé Charles Lomax (the suave Tyrell Crews) with a chipper personality and little know-how often surprises with some of the most direct and challenging lines of the play.
Daniel Ostling's overwhelming sets enhance the script's genius with extravagant living rooms emerging from broken windows and great bombs hanging against a backdrop of large provoking words. Scott Killian's sound design also drives the action with a mixture of hymns and dark beats. Above all, Dennis Garnhum's direction ensures that audiences leave with minds abuzz and questions burning.
American Conservatory Theatre
Through February 2
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