Reviewing plays can be a hazardous job.
For the second time in a week, the elements chose a night I attended an Idaho Shakespeare Festival performance to wreak havoc, nearly resulting in another canceled show and a disappointed audience (see Aug. 16's Romeo and Juliet review).
For about 30 minutes, Festival-goers huddled together, afraid to leave their seats during a dust storm that threatened to turn George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara into a real-life unfolding of Shakespeare's The Tempest--even briefly moving the heavy set piece serving as the opening act's backdrop.
Deserved kudos go to cast and crew for eventually marching on, despite the fact that much of the audience vacated the theater due to the gusts that continued through much of the play, unfortunately drowning out chunks of dialogue.
For those of us that stuck it out, though--what a treat. Director Steve Tague and company have re-created a world that offers the perfect balance of earnestness and humor that, despite the fact that Shaw wrote it a century ago, hits many all-too-familiar notes today.
Major Barbara revolves primarily around an upper crust British family, the Undershafts--the put-upon matriarch Lady Britomart (Lynn Allison) and her children: Stephen (Neil Brookshire), a son with little ambition; Sarah (Julie Evan Smith), a daughter engaged to a potentially wealthy man named Charles Lomax (Tom Willmorth); and Barbara (Kathleen Pirkl Tague), a dedicated major in the Salvation Army who is engaged to poor scholar Adolphus Cusins (Dougred Miller).
Worried about her children's legacies, Lady Britomart is forced to reconnect with her estranged husband, Andrew (Aled Davies), a successful munitions manufacturer who has not seen his children in several years. Andrew is more concerned about the future of his foundry than the futures of his children and he plots to convince Barbara that she and Adolphus are the right choices to take over its operations one day.
To do this, Andrew must convince Barbara that the Salvation Army--and thus, religion--can be corrupted despite one's best intentions, and that the manufacturing and selling of weapons isn't necessarily evil--viewpoints she does not easily swallow. What follows is a tense tug of war between father and daughter that raises questions that can never be satisfactorily answered, neither in Shaw's time nor today.
The entire cast shines, starting with Davies, who somehow makes you like and respect his moralistically dubious Andrew Undershaft. Think what you want about guns, Davies' Andrew might just make you realize that nothing is entirely good or bad.
Always enjoyable to watch, Pirkl Tague doesn't disappoint here either. Her Barbara believably moves from assurance in her convictions to then seriously questioning them, likely mirroring the audience's own reactions as the plot unfolds.
Miller finds the right balance of amusement and sincerity for Adolphus, while Allison delights as Lady Britomart--masterfully chewing up anyone, particularly poor son Stephen, who has the misfortune of disagreeing with her point of view.
Willmorth makes an appropriately goofy Charles, while Fool Squad partner Joe Conley Golden provides some welcome laughs as Salvation Army workman Snobby Price. Lynn Robert Berg makes an impression as reluctant and irritable Salvation Army customer Bill Walker, while longtime ISF player Stitch Marker is pitch-perfect as down-on-his-luck laborer Peter Shirley.
Major Barbara, by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Steve Tague. Aug. 26-27, 29-30. Idaho Shakespeare Festival, 5645 Warm Springs Ave. For more information or tickets, call 336-9221.