Wednesday, July 31, 2013

PEACE IN OUR TIMES is a satirical romp at The Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and satirist, who is the father figure of The Shaw Festival, once wrote, “They undertake to make a new world after every war with hardly brains enough to manage a fried fish stall.” John Murrell who adapted Shaw’s GENEVA into PEACE IN OUR TIME: A COMEDY, took the original author’s ideas and turned them not into a farcical look at how effective talking and listening may be humanity’s only chance for survival.

Note that this PEACE IN OUR TIME is not the 1946 play by Noel Coward which focuses on a small group of Londoners in pub and imagines what would have happened if Britain had fallen to the Germans early during the Second World War. 

Through almost a vaudevillian approach, Murrell, a Texan who moved to Canada and became one of the country’s leading playwrights, develops a course of high jinks from an appeal to a nonfunctioning United Nation’s agency, to a trial in which Mussolini, Hitler and Franco are interrogated. 

The title of the play comes from a phrase echoed by Benjamin Disraeli, who, in 1878, following the Congress of Berlin, stated, “I have returned from Germany with peace in our time.”  He was wrong.  And, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, following participation in the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938, made a similar statement, he also was wrong.  The next day Germany occupied the Sudetenland and started what would become World War II.

As we watch in often hysterical comic horror, we hear satirical comments about the League of Nations, Hitler, Canada, Switzerland, music, politics, religion, closed-minded people, the beliefs of Americans, President Wilson, Britain, legal systems, the role of power, English public schools, journalists, nationalism, the privacy snooping in the US, super-nationalism, patriotism, and glory.  The whole affair ends with the conclusions that “humanity is doomed” and “the experiment called humanity is a failure.”

Though a little long, the play is both humorous and intriguing. 

The Shaw production, under the guidance of director Blair Williams, generally works well.  The set design, costumes and lighting, all aid in creating the right, ridiculous moods.  The action is quickly paced and the laughs well cued.

Neil Barclay is hysterical as Mussolini. Lorne Kennedy, though hard to understand due to a very heavy accent, captures Franco quite well. Ric Reid, as Hitler, fails to create a strong enough character, often looking uncomfortable playing one of the most hated men in history.

Diana Donnelly is ditzy-right as Belle, the air-headed Ohioan, who is nearly responsible for world destruction.  Charlie Gallant nicely develops the role of Joseph Rubinstein, a put-upon Jewish German.  The rest of the cast effectively help carry out the assault.

Capsule judgement: PEACE IN OUR TIME is a farcical romp, pitting the Three Stooges  against Shavian satire. Though the second act gets a little tedious, the overall effect is a learning experience about the foibles of politics and the stupidity of humans for allowing governmental systems to operate with little regard for humanity.

PEACE IN OUR TIME runs through October 12 in the Court House Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.