Modern Misalliance

I just got back from a matinee performance of the Pearl Theatre Company‘s unexpectedly enjoyable and timely staging of Shaw’s MISALLIANCE at City Center Stage Two. I say “unexpected” only because it has been a long time since I’d seen any Shaw and I’d never seen anything by the Pearl before. Also I was easily the youngest person in the audience by a good 30 years. So I had some trepidation about seeing a stale, overblown production of a hoary classic with plummy British accents and little to no relevance to modern life.

Color me surprised. While the production was conventional in every sense of the word it was also incredibly energetic, well-acted and precisely directed. It brought the play to life in a way that made it relevant while traditional. The play was written in 1909-1910, the birth of the last century. One can feel the world literally being rent asunder and brought into modernity – very literally an airplane crashes into the Tarleton estate bringing with it change and momentum.

Shaw’s characters are as much the embodiment of  differing worldviews as they are people – and his extraordinary gift for political and philosophical expostulation insures that they are still relevant. It is almost spooky – the Polish aviator/gymnast character represents Modernity in this play in a way that resonates with the resurgence of the New Eastern Europe.

Amazingly the class issues still ring true to our times and now as we embark on the birth of a new century one can feel the cycle of history coming around. Of course, as an audience watching Shaw’s characters we know that the horror of the 20th Century awaits – two world wars, genocide and unimaginable brutality. Their unrelenting optimism will be met with brutal reality. Still, one cannot help but hope that change is possible – and the energy of the Pearl’s production reels you into the playful spirit of the light-hearted romantic surface of this political polemic.

Shaw just hits so many right notes about the human behavior and the different types of people – and by and large the Pearl production – by playing it straight – allows Shaw’s brilliance to shine through. I had forgotten why he was one of the greats, but now I remember.

I’m used to seeing much more avant-garde fare that aspires to the relevance and literacy of Shaw, it is nice to be reminded that great work holds up and that sometimes a forthright staging can be in service to the playwright and his message more than a contemporary deconstruction.

Um. Okay – gotta go. But if you get  a chance – and can afford it, its a pricey ticket – go check out MISALLIANCE and surprise yourself.

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