George Bernard Shaw was not your typical playwright, and Jitta's Atonement is not typical Shaw. The new Lightning Strikes Theatre Company's production of the play at Altered Stages demonstrates this all too clearly. If you're expecting a play like Pygmalion or Major Barbara, with a wealth of complex relationships and gloriously flowering prose, you will probably want to look elsewhere.
Shaw's translation of Siegfried Trebitsch's original play, Frau Gitta's Sühne, is not among his strongest works. While it is possible, perhaps very likely, that Trebitsch didn't possess Shaw's flair for drama, Shaw himself must bear some of the blame. Shaw succeeded well at giving the work shape and form in English, but even he could not make it as compelling as many of his own works.
Perhaps that's because the story frequently feels too small for Shaw. It deals with little more than a woman in an unhappy marriage who must fulfill the final wish her married lover made before he died. It is interesting, but hardly the subject matter to which Shaw demonstrated a strong gift for bringing dramatic sparks, and most of the time it barely feels enough to fill an evening.
The production itself doesn't help much. Despite some effective moments under the helm of Martin Everall, the gaps just aren't filled in. Everall hits all the points of the story, but the emotion and meaning underneath are all too frequently lacking, and the show has a tendency too plod far too much between the big moments.
Luckily, Lou Kylis, in the title role, gives a strong, truthful performance, hitting all the right notes and making Jitta very likable and sympathetic. Her costars, unfortunately, don't fare as well. Leo Bertelsen, as her husband Alfred, grates in a mostly one-note performance, while Jay Aubrey Jones, as Jitta's ill-fated lover Bruno, frequently appears too stilted and affected. Annmarie Benedict and Bethany Pagliolo, as Bruno's wife and daughter, appear to work very hard, but don't succeed at finding much depth in their characters. Only Nicholas J. Coleman, as Edith's fiancée, Ernest, seems appropriately poised and mannered; with the exception of Kylis, everyone else seems too uncomfortable.
It is, perhaps, telling that one of the most dramatic moments of the evening occurs not on the stage, but in the program itself. An included note from George Bernard Shaw himself describes the personal debt that both he and - by extension - the theatre itself owed to Trebitsch. It is worth reading primarily to compare to how Shaw has repaid the favor with the script here. In the case of both Shaw's work and the adequate if ultimately unsatisfying work done here by Lightning Strikes, that message is all too clear.
Lightning Strikes Theatre Company