Produced by: The Pear Theatre
Directed by: Elizabeth Kruse Craig
Featuring: Monica Cappucini, Michael Saenz, Nicolae Muntean, Briana Mitchell, Becca Gilbert, Michael Weiland, Bryan Moriarty, Todd Wright, Vanessa Alvarez
Running time: 124 minutes, two intermission
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; October 28 through November 20, 2016
Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida Street, Mountain View
Tickets: $10-32. Call 650-254-1148 or visit www.thepear.org.
millionaires of the industrial age
for George Bernard Shaw's fantasy, 'Major Barbara'
In case we'd forgotten that all power and goodness derive from the rich and their industries, The Pear Theatre is here to remind us with George Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara," a play that pre-dates Reaganomics, but that absolutely sings the high praises of trickle-down economics.
Major Barbara, her snobby mother, sister and brother all live comfortable lives because of her father, the long-absent Andrew Undershaft, whose money derives from an armaments factory.
He does not apologize for his trade when he finally visits, but revels in his profit-making: "All the spare money my trade rivals spend on hospitals, cathedrals and other receptacles for conscience money, I devote to experiments and researches in improved methods of destroying life and property ... your Christmas card moralities of peace on earth and goodwill among men are of no use to me."
Still, he accepts Major Barbara's invitation to visit her at the Salvation Army, on the agreement that she will visit his factory the following day.
When he visits the Salvation Army, he breaks Barbara's faith by giving money to the Salvation Army. She refuses his blood-tainted money, but her boss accepts it gladly.
When she and the rest of the family visit the factory, they are delighted by the clean factory conditions and the delightful village of happy homes that are supported by it.
After a bit of moralizing and witty dialog, Major Barbara's fiancé, Adolphus Cusins, agrees to go to work as Undershaft's eventual replacement.
And they all live, happily ever after, as long as nobody remembers about the absolutely horrible working conditions, child labor abuse and the many other offstage disasters of the industrial revolution. And that Shaw's fantasy of a socialist village thriving in the benevolent care of a factory owner was nothing more than a pipe dream.
This being Shaw, there is plenty of witty dialog and both amusing and trenchant social commentary, which may be why people continue to stage this celebration of unrepentant capitalism.
Director Elizabeth Kruse Craig has gathered a cast of excellent actors, although on opening night a few of them still had that rabbit-in-the-headlights look of someone trying to remember lines, or the stutters of remembered lines too slow to come to their mouths.
Monica Cappuccini was powerful and delightful from her first lines, as the matriarch, Lady Britomart Undershaft. She delivers in some form of U.K. accent as if born to it, very solid in the role. Michael Saenz was fun as the Lady's son, Stephen; he does a lot with his face that is well worth watching.
The scene wherein the Lady tells her children and the fiancés that her husband is coming, expands to include Pear stalwart Nicolae Muntean as the butler, Briana Mitchell as Barbara, Becca Gilbert as Sarah, Michael Weiland as Charles (Cholly) Lomax, Bryan Moriarty as Adolphus "Dolly" Cusins and Todd Wright as the patriarch Andrew Undershaft.
The timing of all the riot of dialog was not great, but worked well enough for us to realize there is some special chemistry between Andrew and his daughter Barbara, and that battle lines have been drawn between them.
The performances of all improve dramatically in Act II, when Mitchell is wonderful to watch as she comes into her own as Major Barbara at the Salvation Army, fearlessly facing down a thug and always putting the salvation of souls as her primary goal.
Gilbert, Muntean, Weiland, Saenz and Cappucini all take on different characters in this act, and all are excellent. Weiland is especially impressive as the thug, Bill Walker. They are joined in this act by Vanessa Alvarez as Rummy Mitchens; Alvarez is also in Act III, as a factory worker, Bilton.
Theater can happen with very little in the way of realistic scenery and props, if the performances are sufficiently compelling. I saw Anthony Hopkins as Prospero where the scenery consisted of a few things that looked like hassocks scattered around. But it was Anthony Hopkins, and he was magnificent in a magnificent role.
Mitchell is compelling from word one as Barbara, Cappucini the same in her two roles, and Wright started a little slow but grew quite strong. Once he hits speed, he commands the stage. But they are not enough to overcome this wordy, ill-conceived, outdated script.
It was fun to see a raised stage in The Pear, and it is well used, with a clever bit in Act III that actually drew applause, but better backdrops than just simple projection screens might have helped with the willing suspension of disbelief.
Costumes by Elly Jessop are excellent.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org