Sunday, October 25, 2009
The Shaw Redemption
it's time for something different. My travel budget (being zero) does not allow for much viewing elsewhere, let alone major stages. New York. London. Even San Francisco. So what's the answer, to escape from this brittle sameness?
Lately it's been a set of DVDs, British television productions of plays by George Bernard Shaw. First, there's Shaw: a playwright seldom done hereabouts, whose plays are more radically different than the supposedly innovative new shows. And for all their reputation as talky, walking ideas, they are well-made in a certain way, and certainly entertaining, besides entertaining ideas.
Then there's the acting. These productions seem mostly from the 1970s and 80s, so they often feature theatrical icons in their prime. Speaking of prime, the first one I saw was Maggie Smith in The Millionairess.
For an "obscure" Shaw, The Millionairess is a treat. It also features Tom Baker in a pre-Doctor Who role. (This is a different production apparently from the BBC version, also with Maggie Smith, also available on DVD.)
Each of these DVDs actually has two plays. Mrs. Warren's Profession, a play that skewers capitalism more effectively than Michael Moore, is accompanied by You Never Can Tell, a precursor presumably of plays and film comedies with similar sorts of titles, and this one is energetic, both intelligent and happily funny. What a treat. The performances are wonderful.
These plays give fine actors great words, and they love it, glory in it, and show what they can really do. These plays are about something--issues of class, gender roles, politics, economics, war and peace--that we may need to mentally update and translate to our times, but are often very acute and timeless. And not just issues, but all kind of human concern illuminated by these flashing personalities that Shaw and these actors create.
The first couple of plays sent me to Shaw's prefaces, wonderful in themselves, and I found myself starting to read The Millionairess, hearing Maggie Smith say the lines all over again. I rented these DVDs from La Dolce Video (the new store on G that absorbed a lot of the Video Experience inventory.) But I think I'm going to buy the set. There are nights I need to hear some Shaw, or something. Some of those nights after an evening at the theatre.
Update 2014: I did buy the set. And I've been enjoying them ever since.