Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Shaw's plot focuses on the members of the Undershaft family. Father Andrew, who made his wealth from manufacturing weapons, is pulled back into the family by his estranged wife Lady Britomart, who seeks a source of income for their grown children. However, Andrew, who hasn't seen the children in years, isn't quite taken by his son Stephen, who he doesn't believe would be able to take over the family business, or his social climbing daughter Sarah. He also clashes with his daughter Barbara, who is serving as a Major for the Salvation Army and sees her father's profession and his love of money at odds with her idealistic, soul-saving profession. Can Barbara save her father's soul, or is Barbara the one who needs saving?
Shaw poses many intriguing questions in his play and challenges not only Barbara's views and beliefs but also the views of the audience. He also expertly juxtaposes the differences and class struggles between the wealthy and the poor in how he portrays the overly spoiled Undershaft household, with servants who are at their constant beck and call, and the Salvation Army where the poor are simply looking for a warm meal. But, as Andrew asks Barbara, if you offer a starving person a bible along with a piece of bread is it their hunger or their thirst for religion that is the dominant force they are responding to? While Barbara tells her father, when he tries to offer money to her charity, "You can't buy your salvation."
Under Michael Kary's astute direction, GCU's cast beautifully portrayed a wide range of British individuals from different backgrounds with an expert handling of the array of accents that represent the different classes in England. Christine Ward infused Barbara with idealism and purity and an enthusiastic call to her conviction, while Cameron Cluff portrayed Andrew as the no-nonsense, warm and charismatic man who, while open to listening to the ideas of others, is clearly and firmly set in his ways. Emily Sheppard was superb as Lady Britomart, the uptight, firm and expertly dry-witted woman, and Brandon Brown was excellent in his ability to provide thoughtfulness and insight as Barbara's idealistic and determined fiancé Adolphus Cusins. In smaller roles, Ryan Ardelt, Halee Conway and Isaac Bills did good work as Stephen, Sarah, and Sarah's fiancé Charles, respectively, and Caleb Raney was excellent as the menacing Bill Walker.
William H. Symington's set design used an industrial setting with metallic panels to portray the three locations of the play, along with some comical missile-shaped lighting fixtures overhead that added a nice satirical touch. Costume designer Nola Yergen created perfect period pieces for the wide-ranging social backgrounds of the characters.
Shaw's words and the situations he poses are still topical in the never-ending debates between war and peace and wealth and philanthropy, and his ability to skewer both the complacent poor and the pretentious wealthy members of civilization adds plenty of humor to the piece. The parallels between Shaw's words from 1905 to today, where money, power and weapons still rule government and ultimately the world, aren't unnoticed.
GCU's College of Fine Arts and Production's Major Barbara played from February 9th to 18th, 2018, at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre, 3300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ. Ticket and performance information for their upcoming productions can be found at www.gcu.edu or by calling 602-639-8880.
Written by George Bernard Shaw