By George Bernard Shaw
Class and cash clash in GBS play first staged in 1892.
On a continental holiday, the idealistic Dr. Harry Trench played most nobly by Scott Harrison, along with his friend William deBurgh Cokane played obsessively mannerly by Michael Glenn, meet Mr Sartorius, a self-made businessman, played quite properly by Lawrence Redmond along with his daughter Blanche, acted by the lovely Madeline Farrington.
Paige O’Malley gets to play two roles—in Act I, that of the feisty waitress to serve tea to the cast in a garden restaurant of a hotel at Remagen on the Rhine. In Act II, at the Sartorius home in Surbiton, she is the maid, who cries at the threat of being fired, enduring a choking from Blanche, and moving quite cheery along. She serves both the other characters and to remind us there is another class of people to those we see in the play.
Harry and Blanche fall in love at once in Act I and become engaged, that quickly. Act II, brings everyone together in London. Sartorius meets with the scheming Lickcheese played by Steven Carpenter. Trench and Cokane arrive to visit Sartorius in what starts as a final approval of the marriage between Blanche and Trench. Trench discovers that Sartorius is a slum lord. Trench breaks his engagement with Blanche for his noble but unstated purposes of the source of her father’s money from poor slums.
Now the fun really begins in Act III, as it is revealed that the high minded Trench derives his paltry income from mortgaged tenements. Lickcheese will emerge as a co-player in this schemes, rather than as the collector of rents. Blanche will reveal her temper and her independent spirit as a New Woman, and Harry will reveal his passion for her is greater than his moral uppity-ness over where the money comes from.
That the characters who seem at odds over the issues find a common ground in the need for personal wealth at the expense of a poorer class who require a roof over their heads is no surprise.
The economic, social and political theories that Shaw had access to certainly inform the play. That Shaw could fit them into the minds and manners of characters is his gift.
That we might come to the end of observing their transactions and not be able to blame them all that much, is the way of the world that is his genius.
If all of this seemed like it is really about another place and time, take a good look around you when you leave the theater at Mt. Vernon Square, and wonder how all that development might have come to be.
Washington Stage Guild
Running from SEPT 28 - OCT 22