"Heartbreak House" is Shaw's darkest, most difficult and most prophetic play, full of tenderness and foreboding, wit and apocalyptic vision and, for all of those reasons, the Shavian play that most frequently misfires.
But in 1983, New York's Circle in the Square presented a burnished revival of it--so subtle and resplendent, with Rex Harrison at last playing his age and delivering such an unforgettable Captain Shotover--that it could easily be termed definitive.
Tonight on PBS' "Great Performances" (8 p.m., Channel 24; 9 p.m., Channels 28 and 15) comes an abridged version of it--again with Harrison, the winsome Rosemary Harris as eccentric Hesione, Dana Ivey as prim Lady Utterwood and Amy Irving superb again as plucky and coolheaded Ellie Dunn.
So why has its edge been dulled?
Because editing and the camera's frame have put the wrong constraints on a production that had soared on stage. Despite a host of impressive television credits, director Anthony Page, responsible for all that magic at Circle in the Square, here seems merely to have photographed the play--close-up after confining close-up.