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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Theater Review - Heartbreak House

Heartbreak House
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Maria Aitken
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, December 6, 2pm

Picture by the REP

Heartbreak House is like the 1910s British equivalent of a Seinfeld episode.  It's essentially about nothing, however Shaw's play feels as if it tacks on a third act that attempts to (maybe?) state that the British aristocracy isn't ready for the impending international wars they'd find themselves apart of in the years to come.  There's perhaps a reason this Shaw piece isn't produced often and despite really top-of-the-line aspects in terms of acting, direction, and production design, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' choice of this play ends up feeling confounding rather than fulfilling.

With the show already closed, I'll keep things a bit brief here.  Told in three acts, Heartbreak House is certainly amusing enough in Acts I and II, but after over two hours of humor relating to eccentric rich people and their foibles (in the same vein as Arsenic & Old Lace or You Can't Take It With You albeit with slightly less kooky characters), I began to wonder what was the point of everything I had seen.  The third act doesn't make things any clearer and, in fact, just muddles things up a bit more as it makes attempts to get deeper for reasons that are unknown to me.

The cast is game, as always, and they certainly make the over-three hour affair an enjoyable watch (despite the confounding nature of its existence and length).  Stand-outs this go-around are the REP's Elizabeth Heflin and Kathleen Pirkl Tague as estranged sisters Hesione Hushabye and Lady Utterwood who are seemingly polar opposites of one another, guest artist Auden Thornton as the outwardly innocent young Ellie Dunn who seeks advice on love from Hesione, and REP member Lee Ernst as the elder statesman of the bunch Captain Shotover who may seem crazed, but is perhaps the most sane of all.  It was nice to see Ernst in particular in an enjoyable role as I've found a great many of his performances to be overly mannered and "actorly" -- here it seemed as if he was fully delving into his character.

The real star of the show, however, is the gorgeous Broadway caliber set by Hugh Landwehr.  The play oddly takes place within the confines of a house built to look like a boat.  During the first two acts, we find ourselves inside the exquisitely detailed confines of the ship and the final act (as seen in the picture above) takes place on the ship's deck.  Both settings added much depth to both the play and the characters themselves, keying us in to certain character traits just via the set alone which is a huge plus to the Tony-nominated director Maria Aitken's production.  Aitken really does her best here and the first two acts -- despite their length and nonsensical nature -- really do seem to fly by (although there are admittedly a few lulls here and there).  The whole production really feels Broadway-caliber.  It's just a shame the play isn't all that good.

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