Through September 2
OF MARRIAGE AND MEN: A Comedy Double-Bill Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival
George Bernard Shaw is a playwright almost better known for his stories than his plots and for words, words and words.
The Shaw Festival’s is showing that in an assembly of one-act plays, “How He Lied to Her Husband” and “The Man of Destiny,” one a look at Britain’s dramatic specialty of plays, usually comedies, involving adultery and the other a look at Napoleon when he was making the transition from revolutionary general onto the stairway up to emperor.
They are carrying the joint title “Of Marriage and Men.”
The two plays were first hooked up more than a century ago and they are back.
“Husband” revolves around philandering wife She (Krystal Kiran), boyfriend He (Shawn Adams) and Her Husband (David Adams).
He believes She is ready to dump her husband and move on with the friend, in a time when philandering was an accepted behavior in the upper crust while divorce was incredibly complicated and usually requiring Parliament to pass a law controlling the end of a marriage.
Philandering was a much simpler way to deal with a bad marriage, since both sides were free to participate in those late-night shuffles down the halls of vast country houses from bedroom to bedroom.
Here, Her Husband approves of the relationship of his wife and He.
Makes you wonder what he has going when he’s with the gentlemen at The Club.
He is very disappointed because he wants to move on from just being the friend, to being the husband.
It’s also a chance for Shaw to take a wordy shot at the hypocrisy in the society around him, familiar to him because of his own relationship with a married woman, while married himself.
It’s also interesting because the story doesn’t go the way modern viewers would expect and that makes it interesting.
“Man” is also a battle of words, here Napoleon (Kelly Wong) struggles with Strange Lady (Fiona Byrne) who switches back-and-forth between a woman and a military officer, with food and wine in quantity coming from Giuseppe (Martin Happer), the owner of this inn in Northern Italy, not far from Lodi, where Napoleon has just won a great battle.
He must struggle with his own military, especially The Lieutenant (Andrew Lawrie) who arrives to confess to the general that he has been faked out of dispatches sent to the military leader from the government in Paris.
This mysterious woman now has them and that’s not good for the general, the army, the government back in Paris and a lot of other people.
It is good for Strange Lady, who is in position to help the various opponents of Napoleon defeat him because of the secrets in the dispatches.
She’s open about it, as well as being open about the flaming affair back in Paris involving Josephine Bonaparte, the general’s wife.
However, Napoleon can’t know about it and must call for a duel with the boyfriend if he reads the letter and Strange Lady doesn’t want that to happen.
As with “Husband,” the ending is not what you might expect, unlikely, but plausible in the context Shaw has created.
Philip Akin does a nice job with Steve Lucas’ set and lighting design, switching from a cramped flat in dour London to the sun and warmth of spring in Italy.
The director is also working with some pretty high-powered Shaw performers, Kiran, Ahmed, Byrne, Happer and Wong.
Is “Of Marriage and Men” Shaw’s best?
No, but it is worthwhile.
With the Shaw Festival somewhat getting away from classic Shaw, it’s nice to see some rarely-performed works of the named playwright on stage.
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