Monday, January 15, 2007

'Heartbreak' is witty and to be appreciated

My freelance review:
A greater appreciation for the works of George Bernard Shaw would have come in handy prior to seeing "Heartbreak House," a three-act play currently being performed at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre.

Written in 1919, Shaw's "Heartbreak" focuses on the social and cultural interactions of eight witty, refined characters that come together in a leisurely country house in Europe. And the dialog is correspondingly witty and refined.

Perhaps therein lay the challenge for me. While some in the audience were eating up the non-stop wit and high-culture, letting out sudden belly laughs with upmost pleasure of hearing certain lines, I struggled to appreciate the world I saw acting out in front of me.

There was opportunity to begin to appreciate what this different world had to offer. In the second act, in particular, Shaw's words -- through the character of the elderly and cantankerous Captain Shotover, played by Thomas Carson, to the character of the young Ellie Dunn, played by Ruth Eglsaer:
At your age I looked for hardship, danger, horror, and death, that I might feel the life in me more intensely. I did not let the fear of death govern my life; and my reward was, I had my life. You are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life; and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.
That general theme -- of yearning to experience life more intensely -- resonated at other points, too, within the play. In particular, perhaps, in the third act, through the central character of Hesione Hushabye -- played with a consistent radiance and charm by Carole Healey. Presumably it's World War I just beginning, with bombers having passed through, lighting up the night sky outside the Heartbreak House. From there, it's Hesione's interpretation that borders on either obliviousness or an extreme yearning for intensity:
But what a glorious experience! I hope they'll come again tomorrow night.
"Heartbreak House" plays through Jan. 28 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

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