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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Strong Cast resides in a Creaky
Heartbreak House at Intiman Theatre

Also see David's review of Black Water

Heartbreak House
Michael Winters and
Alexandra Tavares

As George Bernard Shaw's plays go, Heartbreak House hasn't stood the test of time half as well as say Pygmalion or Arms and the Man. Acclaimed director Jon Jory has cast his production impeccably and that cast really delivers. But the script and even the overall level of the company's energy flags during the dark, somber third act. It would have done Jory well to find a way to cut and condense Shaw's often rambling prose into a two-hour and 15 minute two-acter, rather than this three-act and two-intermission version.

Shaw's central characters are all part of a family of oddballs, headed by the aging, dynamite collecting Captain Shotover. The Capt. shares his family home with his rather distracted though charming daughter Hester Hushabye, who watches as her dashing roue of a spouse Hector seduces every woman in sight. Long gone from the house is his other daughter, Ariadne Utterwood, a woman of the world married to the rather nebbishy Randall. Ariadne is rather aghast at the tepid homecoming welcome she receives, especially when a beguiling outsider friend of her sister, Ellie Dunn, is welcomed with open arms on her rival with her clueless father and fiancee of convenience Alfred Mangan in tow. Add in an imperious but loyal family Nurse, and the play begins to look like Shaw's version of You Can't Take It With You. But when the tone grows somber amidst the apparent launch of warfare, the play veers off course and worse yet takes its sweet time to wrap up.

The ladies in the cast have the juiciest roles, and are in fine form here. Alexandra Tavares is wholly engaging and naturally appealing as the outwardly innocent Ellie, Kate Goehring is spirited and a dash melancholy as Mrs. Hushabye, and Suzanne Bouchard sparkles and hisses like the pro she is, cast as often is the case, as a sophisticated, brittle woman with a sympathetic core. The men aren't given as much to work with as written, but still have their moments. Stephen Pelinski offers a memorable turn as sympathetic cad Hector Hushabye, and Michael Winters is rather adorable as the increasingly addled Captain Shotover. Laurence Ballard, away from Seattle stages for awhile, makes a solid return as the pompous businessman Alfred Mangan, who becomes a dart board for just about everyone's put downs. In smaller roles Suzy Hunt as the doughty Nurse, R. Hamilton Wright as Randall Utterwood, and David Pichette as Mazzini Dunn each offer pleasing moments.

Christopher Akerlind's set for the house itself is quite an eyeful of a nautical theme gone wild, but the outdoor setting for act three is less impressive. Greg Sullivan's lighting design is fine indeed, and costumer Deb Trout has done wonderful wardrobe work, with characters ranging from fashion plate to sheik.

Though the production has much going for it, a number of audience walk-outs occurred during the show's intermissions, proving that a talky, slow-burning, tragic comedy such as Heartbreak House is not the ideal fare to program during a Seattle summer, when it is hard to get crowd in a theatre to begin with.

Heartbreak House runs through August 26 at Intiman Theatre 101 Mercer Street, in Seattle Center. For further information, visit www.intiman.org.


Photo: Photo-Chris Bennion



- David-Edward Hughes



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