by Jeffrey Hatcher
Adapted from George Bernard ShawÕs novel, An Unsocial Socialist
Directed by Lillian Groag
Asolo Repertory Theatre
FSU Center for the Performing Arts/Mertz Theatre
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000 or 800-361-8388
In revolving repertory Feb. 15 to May 3, 2008

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Like the wedding cake thatÕs split in two to go off in opposite directions, so upper class Sidney Trefusis leaves Henrietta Jansenius, his pearl and white lace-bedecked bride, to overthrow the 1910 British government. Sidney (Paul Molnar, earnest, quirky) hies to Alton School, disguised as a handyman. He aims to teach socialism to girls who will marry and thus control men of political and economic power. Hired by crusty Head Mistress Wilson (Carolyn Michel, hard boiled to a turn), he soon stealthily but profoundly affects Agatha (spirited Julie Lachance). A rabble-rouser among the students, she not only becomes a rebel but falls for Sidney.

Love is the social movement thatÕs in the Alton air. Sir Charles (Matt Brown, epitome of the idle ridiculous rich) pursues Jane (slyly flirtatious Jessie Blue Gormezano) all over the handsome grounds. Chichester Erskine, a smitten-silly teacher played with comic gusto by David Breitbarth, writes love poetry to Gertrude (sturdy, unflappable Jennifer Logue), his student who avoids him. 

Founders Day finds Henrietta (poised, perfect Kris Danford), in pretty widowÕs weeds, and her trustee father (James Clarke, deftly handling many diversions of Mr. JanseniusÕ eyeglasses), at Alton for the celebration. Also to see niece Agatha. SheÕs not all they see, of course, and soon thereÕs more than a socialist revolution meeting SidneyÕs eye, as well. Henrietta rises from unsuspected depths of strength to take over Alton. Unhandyman Lumpkin (polished by Brad Wallace into a gem of a role) converts from SidneyÕs socialist ideal to the object of capitalist JanseniusÕ financial gratitude. All proceed to be wed to love or revolutionary change or both.

Director Lillian Groag, evidencing her experience as an actress and playwright, not only provides her cast with plenty of activity (e.g., a funny mimed badminton game on the campus lawn; on- and off-stage bike riding; romantic chases, especially). She also references such dramatic audience pleasers as ŌLes MizŌ (Henrietta takes over Alton brandishing a huge red flag, along with students sashed in red, soon to be raising red umbrellas) and LumpkinÕs Alfred Doolittle-like sentiments and shenanigans. SheÕs helped by Josh BradfordÕs bold lighting and the colors in Kate EdmundsÕ sets, offset by Martha HallyÕs predominantly black and white costumes. Yet Groag doesnÕt undercut the serious concerns, implicit in author Jeffrey HatcherÕs resettling of ShawÕs 1895 novel into a 1910 play, behind the comic situations. In her program notes, she stresses that itÕs a time of change.

Notwithstanding the challenges presented by ShawÕs wordy novel, though primarily in dialogue, HatcherÕs contribution--as is true of many of his frequent adaptations--seems best when itÕs less his. ShawÕs notions of the need for economic change and the potential of the superwoman most impress in his own words. The play is wittiest imparting his criticism of education, especially of women, as well as of capitalism based on inherited wealth and social standing or of socialism in abstract theory. What is wanting is more of ShawÕs commentary and comedy with fewer of the dull passages that serve as HatcherÕs farcical set-ups. Thanks to both writers, however, there are in the same show good roles a-plenty that give repertory players, like AsoloÕs, ample opportunies to exhibit class.


Stage Manager: Juanita Munford. Time: 2-1/2 hours with 2 intermissions.


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