The open-air theatre of Theatricum Botanicum struck me as an odd choice for the company to perform Shaw’s Heartbreak House. I was wrong, very wrong. The play is about opening up to one’s true nature, as it should exist in the natural world.
Captain Shotover, played the garrulous William Dennis Hunt, won’t put up with any nonsense while his daughters exploit the craziness of the house to their advantage. With a Victorian set and all the Victorian restrictions placed on people of that era, the lush surroundings of Theatricum embrace the goings-on and act as a mirror against which the play can be observed. The inhabitants of Heartbreak House might very well be crazy and may appear even more so in this setting, but in the anarchy of the wild, familial relationships are to be earned, not subject to society’s rules, marriage is a relative thing, and Shotover’s “wisdom” is not to be shunned but embraced, and tamed as it were.
Shotover is the one character who sees through the eccentricities and foolishness of Heartbreak House, and who sees the inevitable destruction of society unless someone learns how to steer the ship (World War One was imminent). The characters in Heartbreak House each represent a facet of British society: self- indulgence, ignorance, flighty bohemianism, nouveau-riche attitudes, and the relentless class system. These characteristics are what the characters, and by implication the British people, were up against, according to Shaw.
The cast is first-rate, representing the inner core of Theatricum, from Ellen Geer the director to family members Willow Geer, Melora Marshall, and Susan Angelo. They are supported by some of the strongest male members of the company: Alan Blumenfeld (a wonderful Mangan), Aaron Hendry, Mark Lewis, David Stifel, and Bill Gunther. The whole experience was a real treat, seeing wonderful actors living up to the challenges of Shaw. By all means don’t miss the chance to see them in action.
Heartbreak House is playing in rep with Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatricum Botanicum throughout the summer.