By Diana Saenger
In The Old Globe’s West Coast premiere of “Engaging Shaw,” two couples play cat-and-mouse with each other’s intentions and emotions. Excellent casting enhances John Morogiello’s smart script that plays out in a superior set design in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. All capture the essence of the history behind this romantic drama, while delightfully unveiling the charm of the unpredictable situations.
When George Bernard Shaw (Rod Brogan) becomes bored with waiting for his submitted plays to be produced, he’s invited to the home of friends Sidney (Michael Warner) and Beatrice Webb (Natalie Gold), founders of the Fabian Society in England, an organization that promotes socialism. What their houseguest lacks in success, he more than makes up for in his day-to-day complaints about his tedious career and boasts about his accomplishments with the ladies. He spends his time penning letters to married women or courting others.
An “adversary” arrives in the form of another Webb quest, wealthy heiress Charlotte Payne-Townshend (Angela Pierce). She’s immediately drawn to “Bernie,” but cautiously observant of his philandering ways and his obvious affection toward Mrs. Webb. Charlotte and Bernard eventually acknowledge their interest in each other and agree to an intimate relationship with no strings attached.
Brogan and Pierce are excellent in their portrayals. Brogan nails Bernard’s anxious side while waiting for success and also his staunch stubbornness about refusing to get married – “I will not have my wings clipped.”
Pierce has somewhat of a Katharine Hepburn persona; while she adores Bernie and longs to be his bride, she’s perfectly able and ready to walk away if she doesn’t get her way, and which she does for some time.
Sidney and Beatrice are the opposites of their guests. The two actors are married in real life and probably a reason why they create such believable characters. Sidney is not only absorbed with his foundation, he’s totally enthralled by his wife and marriage, and takes every minute with his guests to let them know his feelings. Gold plays Beatrice closer to the sand, sinking into the unburdened life with Sidney, but also toying with Bernard’s impression of women.
Director Henry Wishcamper has an even hand blending this production of fiction based on historical fact. He offers an intriguing peek into what George Bernard Shaw might have been like, while engaging with characters whose lives and decisions fascinate like a Wimbledon tennis match.
If you go
Matinees, evenings July 29–Sept. 4
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park