Heartbreak House
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Brook McCormick

Though most people hate war, it has a way of revitalizing a society that has grown stagnant and selfish and forces it to pull together and concentrate on good. The English society that George Bernard Shaw depicts in his play Heartbreak House is in his own words, “cultured, leisured Europe before the war” – a moral vacuum.

The war about to break out is WWI, and the play’s futile characters are so depraved that they’re actually looking forward to the bombs falling. But the ironic comedy that is subtly woven into each character, in this Porchlight Theatre Company’s production of Shaw’s play, is very entertaining. It doesn’t hurt that some of the Bay Area’s best actors add a wide range of comic diversity that will keep you laughing. Yet behind all the laughter are echoes of how people lived before other wars like WWII, Vietnam and 9/11.

The characters in Heartbreak House are living in this moral vacuum, secretly longing for something real, something visceral to shake them out of their stupor. Enter WWI, and as the bombs start falling, culture is suddenly blown away into the basic elements of life, death and survival. The characters’ longing is for vitality found in a more primal time predating civilization, and what can be more primal than war? But even while the bombs fall, only Captain Shotover (Robert Parnell), a man with experience commanding men at sea, clearly observes: “…the soul’s prison we call England… She will strike and sink and split. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favor of England because you were born in it?”

War washes away the self-centered in all of us and hopefully, after much death and destruction, brings us to higher values.

Don’t miss this great production of one of Shaw’s finest plays. Directed by Elizabeth Craven, Heartbreak House plays at Marin Art and Garden Center’s outdoor Redwood Amphitheatre in Ross. For tickets or more information call (415) 454-8316 or visit www.porchlight.net.

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