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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Irish Repertory Theatre

By Sandy MacDonald

  Cristin Milioti/Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Like many an Irishman before and after him, George Bernard Shaw had some curious ideas about his American cousins - for instance, the notion that New Hampshire might have remained a hotbed of Puritanism right up to the Revolutionary War.

Apparently, the Great Awakening never reached the household of one Mrs. Dudgeon (Darcy Pulliam, in black homespun steatopygously stuffed by director/designer Tony Walton), whose stringent, mean-spirited ways have driven her eldest son, Dick (Lorenzo Pisoni, a jack-booted swashbuckler straight off the cover of a romance novel), to become a self-professed devil's disciple - not a Satan-worshipper per se, just an iconoclastic rebel.

The opening scene is mostly taken up in exposition, and intra-family relationships are not exactly elucidated by the pond-and era-jumping accents applied by the actors (Craig Pattison , playing Dick's dumb, docile younger brother, opts for contemporary American, whereas Christin Milioti , as the irregular - i.e., illegitimate - child Essie, employs what sounds curiously like Brooklynese).

It takes a huge gust of charisma on Pisoni's part just to keep the thing afloat, and he's nicely met in the second act by John Windsor-Cunningham's dry, understated turn as the pragmatic aristo redcoat General Burgoyne. Curzon Dobell is a reliable presence, too, as a newly married minister for whom Dick Dudgeon pulls a Sydney Carton. (When you write sixty-three plays, as Shaw did, a bit of borrowing seems almost inevitable.) Jenny Fellner does way too little with the role of the minister's pretty but initially timorous young bride: we hear the words but don't see the emotions, and thus can't fully appreciate her progression from pious wifey to (relatively speaking) outspoken firebrand.

Overall, it's a puzzle why the Irish Repertory Theatre would choose to stage this lesser, early work (Shaw's first commercial success, stateside in 1897), when the author's only link to the Auld Sod was the youth he spent there before permanently decamping for London. Perhaps the current parallel of an army occupying hostile territory? It's a stretch, though, and not enough of a rationale for this generally drab flashback.


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