I have been a fan of this play ever since I saw the wonderful 1941 film directed by Gabriel Pascal and David Lean and starring Rex Harrison, Wendy Hiller, Robert Morley, Robert Newton and a ton of other great British actors.
Ever since then, we have been searching for great Major Barbara‘s everywhere–several times at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and at the Roundabout. We were delighted to see it again at the Pearl Theatre in a co-production with the Gingold Theatrical Group.
Gingold provided the accomplished director, David Staller, whose sold-out Monday night readings of the Shaw canon starring Broadway actors taking a busman’s holiday at the Symphony Space have become a New York staple. (Jefferson Mays in Village Wooing with Staller and fellow cast members.)
(broadwayworld.com) Staller also performed the difficult feat of editing Shaw’s numerous versions to come up with a complete, yet tight version of the play. As always with this director’s Shaw, he seeks out and highlights the human rights elements ever present in the plays and, indeed, the Gingold is founded on that idea.
You couldn’t do this play without a wonderful Barbara and you have her in Hannah Cabell, whose deep sonorous voice handles the finely wrought language beautifully.
Shaw’s war on poverty and his elevation of Barbara as leader of the fight puts to rest the old canard about him begin a misogynist. He puts Barbara to the test by making her father, Andrew Undershaft, who establishes a worker’s paradise in his munitions plant, a man who not only makes arms but claims the right to sell them to anyone–right or wrong. That is his armorer’s creed–“Unashamed” is the Undershaft motto. Shaw, the consummate playwright, deliberately stacks the deck against Undershaft and makes the case against poverty using this questionable means. There’s never an easy answer with this author. You will see a very fine Dan Daily arguing his case.
There are discounted tickets available for seniors and it is well worth the price to see this wonderful play, so difficult to mount, direct and act, done with distinction.