Major Barbara

Issue 538 : Jan 19–25, 2006

Kabuki Major Barbara: three words to rocket George Bernard Shaw out of his grave and into a fresh 24-hour tirade against the idiocies of contemporary theater. Could there be two strains of drama more at cross purposes that the rhetoric-heavy Shavian canon and the stylized movement and emotion of Kabuki? The first sits almost wholly above the neck and the latter is more interested in the way words sound than what they have to say. The effect of the resulting artistic marriage is predictable. Shaw's text is obfuscated by the barrage of postures, gestural choreography and musical accents placed between it and the audience.
     Still, while this serious drawback cannot be ignored, it is also true that director Brooke O'Harra's production is not without its elucidating moments and stimulating coups de théâtre. An Act I sequence of repeated bits of business (flipped pages, swung watch chains) aptly illustrates the idleness of the upper classes. Cockney brute Bill Walker doubles nicely as a Samurai tough. Playing spaces of varying size help evoke both the cramped capacities of Barbara's Salvation Army mission and the boundless possibilities of devilish daddy Undershaft's munitions factory.
     Finally, unlike many prissily dull Barbaras in the past, bright-eyed downtown darling Heidi Schreck (The Internationalist, Apparition), with her fetching mix of spunk and vulnerability, comes off as the object of fascination she's meant to be. All of these aspects feed into the production's chief asset: an infectious, full-throttle sense of daring and adventure in increasingly low supply below 14th Street.