Through October 7
ANDROCLES AND THE LION Court House Theatre/Shaw Festival
In his director’s notes for “Androcles and the Lion,” Tim Carroll describes George Bernard Shaw’s play as “A crazy mishmash.”
So, is Carroll’s production.
It’s too bad because this show has a good cast, led by Patrick Galligan’s Androcles and Neil Barclay’s emperor of Rome.
The production reminds me of that old warhorse of community theater, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” where the audience controls where the show goes because Charles Dickens never finished his novel and we don’t know where it’s going, so the audience gets to decide.
Here, Shaw not only left his script but also an essay longer than the script about what he was writing about.
Shaw was prone to these long critical essays, reinforcing often didactic plays.
Here, the playwright took a story out of ancient Greece and shifted it to the later stages of the Roman empire where the ancient religion of lots of gods was in an existential struggle with rising Christianity and one God.
It really is the story of Androcles, the dim peasant who helps a lion who has a thorn stuck in his paw and is rewarded later in life when the lion remembers and refuses to kill him.
Interesting parable but highly unlikely.
Androcles is a Christian although his wife isn’t and he winds up in a caravan of Christians heading to the Coliseum in Rome to be fodder for gladiators and wild animals and fodder for the sadistic arena audiences looking for an afternoon’s entertainment.
We meet all of the possible branches of Christianity, from the meek to the violent controlled by a belief in the message of peace.
Along the way, we also meet Carroll’s innovations, a member of the audience invited to come out and try re-arranging the scene elements of the show and the different colored balls some members of the audience can throw out to stop action and ask an actor to recite something from Shaw’s essay about the play or how this play resonates in their life.
It’s really bad.
This is all one of Shaw’s mental condundrums about how important religion is in people’s lives and how important it was in that World War I runup when chaplains from both sides were blessing the troops as they marched off to the slaughter, shriven.
We also get to watch as Christian Lavinia (Julia Course) and the Captain (Kyle Blair), both sort of in love, although the religion issue is blocking it from going further.
We also see the Christian Spintho (Michael Therriault) roll over to the Roman side when faced with being fed to the lions and paying a price
Depending on all of those interruptions, the show can run from under two hours to two hours and 20 minutes.
It feels longer.
The Shaw produced the show in 1963 and in 1984, with a festival of GBS’ work only producing “Androcles” twice before is a hint there might be reasons why it doesn’t come off the shelf often.
The cast as an orchestra doesn’t help.
There actually are some strong acting efforts here, Galligan, Barclay, Jeff Irving’s Ferrovius, Shawn Wright’s Centurion and the dual pair of Course and Blair.
If you are trying to make sure you have seen every Shaw play, it might be worth seeing “Androcles and the Lion.”
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