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Review: Cheery days at Theatricum Botanicum's 'Heartbreak House'

June 13, 2012|By Charlotte Stoudt
  • William Dennis Hunt and Melora Marshall in "Heartbreak House" at Theatricum Botanicum.
William Dennis Hunt and Melora Marshall in "Heartbreak House"… (Miriam Geer )

It’s the end of the world as they know it, but the characters of George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House” feel positively giddy. In Ellen Geer’s fleet, bouncy staging at Theatricum Botanicum, impending doom is just another excuse for dalliance and a mug of rum.

In the rural England of 1914, war seems terribly far away; it is skirmishes of the heart that occupy Shaw’s bohemians. No doubt the distant cousins of Albee’s George and Martha, Captain Shotover (William Dennis Hunt), daughter Hesione (Melora Marshall) and her swoony husband, Hector (Mark Lewis), play Get the Guest with relish. No one bothers to serve visitor Ellie Dunn (Willow Geer) a nice cup of tea, and even the arrival of Hesione’s long-lost sister Ariadne (Susan Angelo) unleashes insults. All anyone cares about is whether impoverished Ellie will marry capitalist Boss Mangan (Alan Blumenfeld) for money.  

Geer’s fanciful, well-paced production leans on the broad side, but it’s impossible to resist Shaw’s barrage of put-downs and paradoxes. (“You’ll never have a quiet world until you knock patriotism out of the human race.”) Even when the play’s thematic focus wanders, Hunt grounds the show with his wonderfully misanthropic Shotover, and Marshall’s sharp-tongued Hesione keeps the slight plot humming.   

This madcap idyll has an expiration date — the play’s eerie ending signals Europe’s descent into the maelstrom of World War I — though rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship has rarely looked so diverting.


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 “Heartbreak House,” Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Schedule varies; see website for details. $20 and $33. (310) 455-3723, Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. 

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