We have George Bernard Shaw himself to thank for his thundering polemics; his fierce turns of phrase in drama, fiction and in public life; and for his sheer eloquence of character. We have playwright John Morogiello's Engaging Shaw and an irresistibly complex portrayal of Shaw by Rod Brogan to thank for humanizing the man who would be superman.
Engaging Shaw, making its West Coast premiere in The Old Globe's intimate Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, immerses the audience in Shaw the Socialist, Shaw the Egoist and, at the same time least likely and most likable, Shaw the Unconventional Romantic—the key word being “unconventional.” So contemptuous is the Irish playwright / author / activist of all things conventional, particularly those pertaining to war and wooing between man and woman, that no adulation or declaration of love or force of nature can bend his will.
The force of nature in Engaging Shaw is wealthy heiress Charlotte Payne-Townshend (Angela Pierce), an Irish spitfire more than up to the task of going quip-for-quip, barb-for-barb, salvo-for-salvo against a “sprite” who believes women will someday have their day—just not today.
Charlotte's quest to “engage” Shaw, and not only in promised matrimony, is just part of the appeal of this light, but definitely not lightweight, story of romancing and politicking. The Globe has cast four superior actors—Brogan, Pierce, Michael warner and Natalie Gold, the latter two as married sociopolitical reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb. What seems as uncomplicated as a late-19th-century battle of the sexes becomes a series of stirring and affecting revelations—about both Sidney's and Beatrice's relationship to friend and house-guest (at a Stratford cottage) Shaw; about the piquancies of marriage; about the significance of The Cause (the advancement of democratic socialism); about art; and, in the end, about love.
Brogan, in wool suit and wooly beard, and Pierce, unfettered neither by chignon nor Shaw's chauvinism, circle each other like stalking cats, though they do so with gleam in eye, sharpness of tongue and more than a bit of sexual tension. Chaste as their few kisses are, we can be sure that this pair, when they finally reach common ground, will flare as much in action as in words. It's great fun watching them get there.
There's just enough restraint and use of dramatic pauses in Brogan's and Pierce's interchanges to ensure that the bickering becomes neither tiresome nor reminiscent of an old rerun of Maude. On the theater-in-the-square White stage, there's no place for either to hide from the other—not that this is ever going to happen. Like it or not, this pair is made for each other.
Engaging Shaw runs through Sept. 4 at The Old Globe's Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. theoldglobe.org
The Sound of Music: Music fuels the von Trapp family's unshakable bond as they flee Austria before the outbreak of World War II. Through Aug. 27 at Kit Carson Park Amphitheatre in Escondido. $10-$19. patioplayhouse.com
Ah, Wilderness!: Young would-be poet Richard Miller is in the throes of first love and is sure he loves Muriel McComber with a passion and depth that no one has experienced before. Through Aug. 28 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $22-$38. newvillagearts.org
HersheyFelder in Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein: Pianist / composer Hershey Felder and director Joel Zwink collaborate for the fourth time at the Globe, this time on the life of the boundary-breaking Bernstein. Through Aug. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$81. oldglobe.org
The Love Suicides at Amijima: Two star-crossed lovers conspire to take their own lives amid the futility of their relationship. Produced by DangerHouse Productions, through Aug. 28 at Liberty Hall Theatre in National City. $10-$13. dangerhouse13.com
SleepingBeauty Wakes: When a young woman visits a sleep-disorder clinic, the staff and patients start sharing her dreams. Through Aug. 28 at the Mandel Weiss Theatre in La Jolla. $47 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
2 Pianos 4 Hands: In this return engagement, two actors seated opposite each other at grand pianos tinkle the ivories and relive their piano-prodigy pasts. Through Aug. 28 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $30-$47. northcoastrep.org
Hairspray: The venerable rock musical set in '60s Baltimore is based on the cult John Waters film. Through Sept. 3 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. $27-$50. moonlightstage.com
Engaging Shaw: Charlotte Payne-Townsend sets to romancing the iconic playwright George Bernard Shaw—a job more complicated than any of his scripts. Through Sept. 4 at The Old Globe Theatre's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Grace: The real-estate boom comes back to bite a religious-minded Florida couple in this local premiere of Craig Wright's play. Produced by Ion Theatre Company. Through Sept. 10 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10-$29. iontheatre.com
Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour makes a Faustian bargain with a mean, green, man-eating plant to provide fresh meat in exchange for money, fame and the love of his life. Produced by Cygnet Theatre Company, it runs through Sept. 11 at The Old Town Theatre. $34-$59. cygnettheatre.org
Amadeus: Composer Antonio Salieri throws up a series of roadblocks to sidetrack the career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his supposed archrival. Through Sept. 22 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Much Ado about Nothing: While Beatrice and Benedick hide their infatuation beneath witty barbs, young love blossoms as Hero and Claudio race to the altar, with the wicked Don John conspiring to break up the wedding. Through Sept. 24 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
The Tempest: With the help of his spirit friend Ariel, the magician Prospero conjures up a shipwreck that restores his daughter to her rightful place in the Milan hierarchy. Through Sept. 25 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Trying: Former chief judge of the Nuremberg Trials Francis Biddle's efforts to write his memoirs are complicated by “help” from a young assistant. Through Sept. 25 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net