December 7, 2012
By Chase Wade
The Daily Campus
In 1905, George Beranard Shaw wrote Major Barbara, a stinging comedy that used its humorous approach to tackle sweeping social issues ranging from the class divide to the heavy subject of war.
More than 100 years after its premiere, Shaw’s sharp social commentary still carries much of its weight today. SMU’s Meadows Theatre staged Major Barbara in Greer Garson theatre this past weekend and brought with it a solid cast and an impressive set needed for undertaking such bold material.
The story line is this: After exhausting all options for financing her daughter’s lives, Lady Britomart Undershaft (Lynn Blackburn) is forced to contact her estranged husband Andrew Undershaft (Brandon Porter) for monetary support. Andrew Undershaft has made millions, billions maybe, in the name of war as the planet’s leading manufacturer of cannons, guns and the rest of the tools needed for bloodshed.
Lady Britomart’s two daughters, Sarah and Barbara Undershaft (Janielle Katsner and Ashlee Elizabeth Bashore) couldn’t be more different.
Sarah is engaged to Charles Lomax (Teddy Warren), a basic, bumbling idiot who, thanks to his father’s successes, will one day be a very rich man. Sarah Undershaft, his fitting fiancé, is the play’s most passive character who is often thrown to stage let or right with a book in her hand and a dead look in her eye. Shaw’s underdevelopment of the character, not Katsner’s acting, is to blame for such an aloof role. If needed, Sarah and Lomax’s roles could be cut from the play and all the audience would miss is a handful of almost funny punch lines and a couple of blank stares.
Sarah’s older sister Barbara, on the other hand, is an active woman of faith who heads the town’s Salvation Army. Barbara reaches a moral fork in the road when her wealthy father offers to donate a large sum of money to the Salvation Army all in the name of whiskey and war. Barbara is big on the soul and claims that such dirty donations have caused her to lose a couple, and eventually, she quits working for the Salvation Army. Bashore does a formidable job as the play’s lead, teetering between the confidence and charisma needed to play Barbara. At times, her British accent was lost in her longer spiels.
Threaded between these ongoing storylines are long, wordy monologues packed with political talk worthy of cable news. If Shaw was a fan of the 1900s social condition, Major Barbara is certainly not evident of it. Ultimately, these heavy handed sermons make Major Barbara a play more for the actors than the audience.
One actor in particular, Lynn Blackburn as Lady Britomart Undershaft, took advantage of this and crafted a quirky, matriarchal character that pleasantly irked from the play’s first scene. With an overbearing attitude and a forced overbite, Blackburn’s portrayal of Lady Britomart was keen to Maggie Smith’s character on Downton Abbey.
As a whole, Major Barbara was a suitable send off to Meadows Theatre’s fall semester. While the production allowed for its actors to show off some serious chops, the audience was still able to enjoy a century-old work riddled with the world’s problems that are still present today.
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