by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Robert Scogin
at Shaw Chicago
Wealth of words and wit in Millionairess
To create theatrical magic, settings are nice but not essential. Costumes are appealing but also not essential, and the same is true for props. Indispensable, however, are tight plays and talented actors. That is what Shaw Chicago’s Concert Readings of the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries has offered for the past 19 years (18 under the fine direction of Robert Scogin).
The 2012-13 season opens brilliantly with a hilarious comedy: The Millionairess. This tells the story of Epifania Ognisanti de Parerga Fitzfasssenden (Lydia Berger Gray), a woman long on cash and low on morals, and her descent into romantic love. Along the way, we meet her husband, Alastair (Gary Alexander), her lover, Adrian Blenderbland (Jonathan Nichols), his mistress Seedystockings (Jhenai Mootz) , and a mysterious Egyptian doctor. (Mark Plonsky). Seasoning the mixture are a relatively sensible family lawyer Julius Sagamore (Joseph Bowen), a hotel manager (Matthew Gall) and two delightfully distressed senior citizens, Joe and his wife (Skip Lundby and Mary Michell).
Can a fabulously rich woman find happiness with a relative pauper? Can a woman with a father fixation come to terms with an oedipal mate? What happens when parents influence their children (and their choice of partners) from beyond the grave? Come and find out.
The entire cast is splendid, exhibiting facial expressions which capture all the nuances of the play. Names and behavior may be outrageous, but the actors give the characters vivid verisimilitude. Standing before podia with scripts in front of them, they bring the play to life. Gray mimes a slap, Nichols reacts, and the other actors smack their hands in unison for the requisite noise — all handled instantaneously. They are as much a pleasure to see as to hear.
In addition, of course, there is nothing better than hearing the wit and wisdom of GB Shaw which, even in the midst of ribald comedy, can introduce pithy insights:
The law is equal before all of us; but we are not all equal before the law. Virtually there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, one law for the cunning and another for the simple, one law for the forceful and another for the feeble, one law for the ignorant and another for the learned, one law for the brave and another for the timid, and within family limits one law for the parent and no law at all for the child.
At least two films have been made of Shaw’s comedy. Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers starred in 1960, and Maggie Smith took the lead for a 1972 BBC Play of the Month. One of these will be shown next May at the Oakton Community College Shaw Festival — but don’t wait! See The Millionairess at Shaw Chicago now and then relive the experience next May.
Beverly Friend, Ph.D.
Shaw Chicago, Ruth Page Theater, 1016 Dearborn St., 312-587-7390