Monday, June 5, 2017

CT Theater Review: Heartbreak House -- Hartford Stage

The cast of Heartbreak House. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Heartbreak House
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Darko Dresnjak
Hartford Stage
Through June 11

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A house like a ship that's anything by shipshape. Though set in England in 1914, this production is surprisingly timely, Captain Shotover (Miles Anderson) runs his home like a ship (and it looks like one too, thanks to set design  (Colin McGurk). His daughters two daughters couldn't be more different. There's Ariadne, a.k.a. Lady Utterword (Tessa Auberjonois), who has just arrived from Australia after a 23-year absence with her wimpy brother -in-law, Randall Utterword (Grant Goodman), in tow. 

There's also Hesione Hushabye (Charlotte Parry) who lives at home with her father (and off of themoney he earns with odd inventions involving dynamite) invites folks for a dinner party: Ellie Dunn, (Dani DeWaal), her father, Mazzini (Keith Reddin) and her fiance, Boss Mangan (Andrew Long), whom the young girl feels obligated to marry despite the difference in their ges because the successful magnate has bailed her father's business out of trouble. Awkwardness ensues when Ellie confesses she might not love Mangan, but have feelings for another man, who turns out to be none other than Hector Hushabye (Stephen Barker Turner), Hesione's womanizing husband. A nurse (Mary VanArsdel) is thrown in for good measure.

If you find all of that amusing and how these characters relate to each other (not everyone turns out to be who they seem), with an emphasis on mores of society in a time when england is entering the war, you are a bigger fan of George Bernard Shaw than I, even if he did give us Pygmallion, which was the inspiration for the musical My Fair Lady.

What Are the Highlights?
You won't see a more relevant, timely production, as Director Darko Tresnjak puts a blond wig and protruding gut on Mangan to evoke thoughts of Donald Trump. It's not a parody or a political bash -- simply an observation -- and it is brilliant. Instead of this dated play drawing some yawns as Shaw takes a poke at the folly of man, the audience gasps and chuckles as realization dawns and lines of dialogue suddenly seem familiar.

"Too rich: I can’t eat such things. I suppose it’s because I have to work so much with my brain. That’s the worst of being a man of business: you are always thinking, thinking, thinking."

"I saw that he had a sound idea, and that he would work himself silly for it if he got the chance. I saw that he was a child in business, and was dead certain to outrun his expenses and be in too great a hurry to wait for his market. I knew that the surest way to ruin a man who doesn’t know how to handle money is to give him some. I explained my idea to some friends in the city, and they found the money; for I take no risks in ideas, even when they’re my own."

"(I) listened to such unfairness, such lies, such injustice and plotting and backbiting and slandering of me, if I could have up and told you what I thought of you! I wonder I didn’t burst."

What Are the Lowlights?
The dialogue often is hard to hear. I attended a performance with audio transcription projected on the wall and many of us found this helpful.

This play is way too long at two hours and 45 minutes.

More Information:
Heartbreak House runs through June 11 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,  and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets:

Additional credits:
Costume Designer Ilona Somogyi; Lighting Designer Matthew Richards; Sound Designer Jane Shaw.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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