Monday, August 06, 2018

Shaw’s “Of Marriage and Men” two one-acts dedicated to women, and the men around them

“The test of a man’s or woman’s breeding is how they behave in  quarrel.  Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly.” (G. Bernard Shaw)

Showcasing the complex nature of marriage and relationships, George Bernard Shaw’s attitudes about the superiority of women, attacks on the British class system, the French-English war of words, definition of desire and the role of heart versus needs is on display in his two slight scripts, ”How He Lied to Her Husband” and “The Man of Destiny,” being performed at The Shaw as “Of Marriage and Men.”

Supposedly written over a period of four days while he was vacationing in Scotland in 1904, the satirical commentary is a takeoff on Shaw’s “Candida.”

Of the play, Shaw stated, "Nothing in the theatre is staler than the situation of husband, wife and lover in which assumptions and false points of honor are made."  And that is exactly what “How He Lied to Her Husband” is about.

A handsome young man (Her Lover/Henry) writes poems to a young beautiful young lady (Herself, in fact, named Aurora), expressing his undying love.  Herself is married to an elderly man (Teddy) who plies her with diamonds and beautiful clothes.

What will happen if her husband finds out about the poetry and the affair?  Henry to confesses his love for Aurora, which pleases Teddy so much he proposes having the poems published as a tribute to his wife.  What should the volume be called?  Henry replies, "I should call it ‘How He Lied to Her Husband.’"

The play is slight, as is the production, under the direction of Philip Akin. 

A very cleverly choreographed set change transformed the stage from an English  drawing-room to an Italian inn and garden!

The Man of Destiny,” the second half of the program, is an 1897 play by Shaw.   It is set during the early career of Napoleon, shortly after his victory at the Battle of Lodi. 

While eating, Napoleon receives news that some dispatches that a courier had been carrying were stolen by a devious youth.  The youth turns out to be a woman, dressed like a man.  A convoluted tale follows in which a battle of wits between the great leader and the woman takes place, which includes the possibility of an affair by Napoleon’s wife, Josephine and a possible scandal.

As with “How He Lied to Her Husband,” ‘The Man of Destiny” is not a major work in Shaw’s cannon.   A pastiche, it is neither compelling nor overly entertaining.   And, as was the curtain raiser, it gets an acceptable production.   

Capsule judgment:  One must wonder, with all the great Shaw scripts available, why Artistic Director Tim Carroll selected this tandem of one-acts to perform.  In program notes he claims that the world is in a state of distraction and needs to “reclaim our attention.”  Though “Of Marriage and Men” is not a distraction, it is not great theatre that will not “waste our time,” it is not the quality of script that will make us want to “switch off our phone.”