Heartbreak House

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Written by: George Bernard Shaw
    Directed by: Robin Lefevre
    Cast: Philip Bosco (Captain Shotover), Swoosie Kurtz (Hesione Hushabye), Byron Jennings (Hector), Lily Rabe (Ellie Dunn), Laila Robins (Lady Utterword), Bill Camp (Mangan), John Christopher Jones (Mazzini Dunn) and Jenny Sterlin (Nurse Guinness).
    Synopsis: Follows the unlikely romantic encounters that occur in an estate on the English countryside. Romance springs ever eternal but never mutual, and the only stable marriages have the least to do with love.
     

    When it comes to plays about the end of a way of life, true humanity wins out over pure intellect every time. This thought came to mind, upon seeing the tepid production of George Bernard Shaw�s Heartbreak House that just opened at the American Airlines Theater.

    In recognition of Shaw�s 150th birthday, the Roundabout has mounted a starry revival of his satire on the death throes of the British agrarian aristocracy that originally opened in New York in 1920. Set in a country house populated by a bunch of recognizable �types�, Shaw�s work has many parallels with Chekhov�s The Cherry Orchard but little of the Russian play�s compassion. Instead of spending time with a group of souls whose world is falling apart, you come away from Shaw�s work having spent an evening filled with clever witticisms uttered by a bunch of characters who are both vapid and nasty. After the show is over, you couldn�t care less if their ship is about to sail. Good riddance!

    On paper, this production would appear to be well cast. Participants include Philip Bosco in full white beard playing Captain Shotover, the squire and nutcase around whom the action revolves. Swoosie Kurtz is his �bohemian� daughter Hesione and Laila Robins his �aristocratic� daughter Ariadne. Byron Jennings is Hesione�s twit of a husband Hector. And Lily Rabe (a younger carbon copy of her mother, actress Jill Clayburgh) is the unexpected visitor who manages to create havoc by hankering after Hector but settling for the Captain.

    Ms. Kurtz was born to play this kind of iconoclastic role; Ms. Robins is as always admirably upper crust. But Mr. Bosco is strangely subdued as the bombs are dropping (sometimes literally) around him. Perhaps that is the fault of the generally lukewarm direction by Robin Lefevre. The ugly dark brown set by the usually reliable John Lee Beatty is also underwhelming.

    It�s the play; it�s the production. All in all, a not-very-enjoyable evening.

     

    What the critics had to say.....

    CHARLES ISHERWOOD of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Rippingly good revival" and "As transmitted in this fine production, it still sends a shiver down the spine. Almost a century after it was written, �Heartbreak House� provides a keen comic rebuke to cynicism, self-indulgence and detachment"

    JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says "Robin Lefevre's listless direction and torpid pacing, together with lackluster performances, rob the play of its wit, sting and linguistic richness."

    CLIVE BARNES of THE NEW YORK POST says "One of those classic plays that promises more than it delivers - but rarely has it delivered so little as it did last night." & "Where brilliance was needed, only competence glimmered through."

    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "Director Robin Lefevre's sedate production appears too solidly grounded by its stately setting."

    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "Shivers, not to mention other vital responses, are in short supply in Robin Lefevre's flaccid revival. Despite a cast that looks grand on paper, a script that should be enchanting about disillusionment, is disappointing."

    ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY "The ever-reliable Philip Bosco shines in another sympathetic role, that of Hesione and Adriadne's father, Captain Shotover. The cranky patriarch is entrusted with some of Shaw's most pungent and revealing lines, and Bosco serves them with a wry grace that's ideal. It's the one performance in this Heartbreak House that matches the power and elegance of the text."

    ROBERT FELDBERG of the RECORD says "There's an abundance of deftly delivered witticisms, but in this static production, directed by Robin Lefevre, they're about all that's well-delivered. The action is all from the neck up."

    JACQUES LE SOURD of JOURNAL NEWS says "You'll be hard-pressed to stay awake during this play's interminable three acts."

    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS says ""This house is full of surprises for them that don't know our ways," says an elderly servant to a young woman making her first visit to the country home of the eccentric, seafaring Captain Shotover and his bohemian brood. Not only surprises but delights, judging from the Roundabout Theatre Company's effervescent revival of George Bernard Shaw's meaty masterpiece"

    FRANK SCHECK of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "This work about the romantic foibles of upper-class Brits on the eve of World War I, which the playwright dubbed "a fantasia in the Russian manner on English themes," is fiendishly difficult to bring off. The current Roundabout production, sadly, is only sporadically successful in capturing its complexities."

    DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY says "This ultimately is a satisfying, impeccably designed production of a clever, complex play that's probably easier to get wrong than right."

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