George Bernard Shaw wrote 62 plays. Some are still performed regularly. But most — as is the case for virtually every playwright not named Shakespeare — are not.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is currently staging three of his short plays in a production titled “Shaw! Shaw! Shaw!” at its outdoor Backyard Stage, for socially distanced audiences, in Florham Park. And it’s a great opportunity to see some witty short works that you may never get to see again, delivered with good comic timing by a cast of nine.
In “Overruled” (1912), we meet a couple having an affair, Gregory (Isaac Hickox-Young) and Mrs. Juno (Skye Pagon). He thinks she’s a widow, but she’s not.
“The first day we met — on the boat — you spoke to me of your poor dear husband. … afterwards you called him poor Tops,” he says. “Always ‘Poor Tops,’ ‘Our poor dear Tops.’ What could I think?”
“There’s something pathetic to me about men,” Mrs. Juno says. “I find myself calling them ‘Poor so-and-so’ when there’s nothing whatever the matter with them.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Juno believes that Gregory is unmarried, until she finds out otherwise.
“You never gave me the faintest hint that you had a wife,” she says.
“I did indeed,” he replies. “I discussed things with you that only married people really understand. … I thought it the most delicate way of letting you know.”
Eventually they encounter their respective spouses, Sibthorpe (Christian Frost) and Mrs. Lunn (Billie Wyatt), who are also, it turns out, having an affair with each other. More clever banter ensues, among the four of them, as they hash out the terms on which the status quo — that is, the two affairs — will continue.
I enjoyed “Overruled” but — and this is strange to say for a short, I know — I felt it went on too long, almost driving its main joke (i.e., the absurd casualness with which the four discussed their infidelities) into the ground.
“Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction, or The Fatal Gazogene” (1905), also part of “Shaw! Shaw! Shaw!,” echoes the silliness of “Overruled” by spoofing murder-story melodramas. And the evening’s third and, I thought, most fulfilling play, “Village Wooing” (1934), expanded on the main theme of “Overruled” in that it showed two eccentric, self-absorbed people awkwardly negotiating their way to a relationship.
Director Bonnie J. Monte cleverly stages the three scenes of “Village Wooing” separately — one at the start of the evening, one in the middle of the two other plays, and one at the end. This evokes the passage of time between the scenes: the two characters, identified in the program only as A (Christian Frost) and Z (Katja Yacker), are seen at different points of time. But it also gives the audience two pleasant jolts, as the characters we’ve come to … not exactly like, but be intrigued by, return to the stage.
In the first scene, A is a prickly, upper class travel writer who is taking a cruise but only wants to concentrate on his work, and Z is the talkative, working class shopgirl (who won the opportunity to take the cruise in a contest) who won’t stop babbling even when it’s abundantly clear he wants her to.
In the second scene, months later, A wanders into her shop: He doesn’t recognize her from their earlier encounter, but Z knows who he is, and this leads to some funny exchanges.
Then in the third scene, further in the future, they finally become an actual couple, putting a sentimental cap on not only the play, but — in this production — the entire evening.
“Shaw! Shaw! Shaw! will be presented outdoors, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s Backyard Stage in Florham Park, through Oct. 25. Visit shakespearenj.org.
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