THE BASICS: Another Shaw rarity, this stinging little comedy from 1915 is GBS vs. War, with a healthy helping of Anglo-Irish acrimony thrown in for good measure. Kimberley Rampersad directs a cast of four. O’FLAHERTY, which runs about 45 minutes (no intermission) is this year’s Luchtime Theatre offering at the Festival. It runs on selected dates through October 6th.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: An Irish country house, summer of 1915. Dennis O’Flaherty, who has just won the Victoria Cross (V.C.) for conspicuous bravery in battle, returns to the estate where he grew up, along with his commanding officer General Sir Pearce Madigan, the local squire. Their mission — to recruit more Irishmen into the British forces.
Madigan, an old-school, stiff upper lip, King and Country type, is astounded to learn that his “star” soldier, O’Flaherty, is a horse of an entirely different color. After a year in the trenches, O’Flaherty appears to have suddenly grown/woken up, and is spouting decidedly dim views of the Great War, war in general, patriotism, the privileged classes, his own countrymen, and those close to him whom he once held in high esteem.
The play is mostly talk, as is generally the case with Shaw, but there is a wild and woolly fight near the end, between O’Flaherty’s termagant mother and avaricious ex-girlfriend, over a gold chain he’s taken from a German soldier (as a sort of payment for not killing him!).
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Although it’s over 100 years old, and saddled with a specific, now fusty historical context, in terms of the various sentiments espoused by its young anti-hero, O’FLAHERTY is remarkably fresh, modern. GBS was way ahead of his time, as those of you who are his devotees well know. Here are some lines to savor from the mouth of the disillusioned Dennis:
“It’s in the nature of governments to tell lies.”
“Don’t talk to me or any other soldier of the war being right. No war is right.”
“You’ll never have a quiet world until you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”
“Do you think we should have got an army without conscription if domestic life had been as happy as people say it is?”
Shaw veteran Patrick McManus is well cast and perfectly “ripping” as the old general/country squire, Sir Pearce Madigan. Also delightful is Tara Rosling as O’Flaherty’s crafty, domineering, fiercely Irish mom.(Fun fact:McManus and Rosling are a long-time, real life couple, and have a daughter.) Ben Sanders makes an amiable and perfectly serviceable, if less than flavorful, O’Flaherty.While pretty to look at, and very prettily costumed, Gabriella Sundar Singh is just too much of a stretch for me as Teresa, the grasping colleen who is O’Flaherty’s former heart throb. Brand me a racist if you must, but this kind of color-blind casting is doing nobody a favor.
In the hands of director Rampersad, what could be a very talky 45 minutes nips along smartly. It’s all very stylish, and with just enough comic business. DVD projection is used to good advantage, both at the beginning and the end. There are even a couple of interpolated period songs, rendered by the company with gusto (One is done singalong style, with the aid of the screen!). The costumes, lighting and other production values are of the usual high Festival quality.
IN SUM: Another Shaw rarity, full of snappy observations and liberal sentiments, and marred just a little by the casting. GBS fans will certainly wish to partake. Tip: you may want to read this short play before attending (Google it), just to keep from being overwhelmed by all the dense, speedy, Irish-inflected dialogue.
Lead image: Ben Sanders and Patrick McManus – Photo by Emily Cooper
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!