A View from the Cliff: “Major Barbara” is major success

Do the ends justify the means? Should the world’s impoverished pick their benefactors? Do nobles hold a monopoly on charity? Don’t the unscrupulous have the same rights for their tainted donations?  Poor Barbara, a major in 1905 London’s Salvation Army, confronts this wrenching dilemma.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece of wit and conscience, “Major Barbara” undergoes masterful theatrical scrutiny by Director Shannon Sindelar and Brave New World Repertory Theatre’s outstanding cast. Their performance on Friday evening was well received, as expected.

The title role is played by beautiful Grace Rao. Her moral conundrum is conveyed by her nonverbal gestures and eye contact — along with Shaw’s brilliant dialogue. She strides across the stage with a mixture of compassion, determination and affection. Her strong, shrewd mother, Lady Britomart, is also well played by Alice Barrett Mitchell.

The upper class Undershaft family benefits from subtle staging while the uneducated rabble is blatantly violent (John Edmond Morgan, fight choreography). Munitions mogul Andrew Undershaft (excellently interpreted by David Frutkoff) is the nefarious Napoleon of manufactured machine guns. His estranged wife and children (Christopher Tilley, Zoe Geltman) are equally manipulative. Only his daughter Barbara displays naïve morality. She cares about the unwashed masses (played by Joe Godley, Lisa Hickman, Brandon J. Vukovic). Their appearance is in stark contrast to the Undershafts’ well-heeled attire and polished manner of speaking (Wendy Waterman, dialect coach; Erik T. Lawson, sound design).

The story unfolds on a bare stage with just a few props (chairs and more chairs) and some variations in lamplight to represent scene changes (Patrick Rizzotti, scenic design). It’s an effective technique in the modified theater-in-the-round at the First Unitarian Church on Pierrepont Street (Paige Barnes, AnnieRose Kafer, stage managers). After all, the audience is just inches from the actors. On the other hand, the costumes (Martina Nevermann) are very detailed with the rich looking rich and the poor, well, looking poor.

The Undershaft women’s suitors are Charles Lomax (Ian Whitt) and Adolphus Cusins (B. Brian Argotsinger). Argotsinger is excellent as the sometimes befuddled, sometimes brilliant professor of Greek studies who becomes heir to the Undershaft munitions empire. Supporting players Doug Barron, Julia Schonberg, Leslie Marseglia complete the strong cast.

For information on this and future productions, surf to www.bravenewworldrep.org or check their Facebook and Twitter sites. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.


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