August 2, 2015


The Arts

Comedy playlet smug, performances just student-calibre

THERE'S a smug quality to George Bernard Shaw that is wearing a bit on this Shawfest-goer.

The playwright tossed off the 1904 comedy playlet How He Lied to Her Husband in a weekend, according to this production's program, or in four days, to cite Wikipedia. Perhaps it was a three-day weekend.

At any rate, Shaw bragged that he had spun an original play out of a hackneyed situation: a husband, his wife and her lover. He cockily asserted other writers could do the same if they'd just stop "plagiarizing Othello."

To audiences back then, this three-hander likely was very funny because it gave a reality check to familiar conventions about romantic love, jealousy, male honour and female passivity. It is clever, but self-consciously so. Shaw's references to his own hit play Candida raise chuckles, but come across as self-congratulatory.

The show, directed by Rob Brown and billed at 50 minutes, actually runs only 35. The actors are inexperienced amateurs, their performances of student calibre at best. And while Shaw intends the lover to be a youth and the wife in her mid-30s, the two here appear the same age.

Aurora (Adrianne Winfield), the wife, is supposed to be going to the theatre with Henry (Daniel Pop), whom her husband trusts as a friend. But Aurora is deeply worried that love poems written for her by the adoring Henry have gone missing and will reach her husband (Dennis Sinclair).

Henry, a starry-eyed romantic, says they should unashamedly declare their love. The no-nonsense Aurora frets about scandal.

Just as you're thinking Henry is an awful lot like the marriage-disrupting poet in Candida, it's revealed that the pair's theatre tickets are for that very play. They've both seen it already. It "put ideas into their heads" while putting her husband to sleep. More Candida jokes ensue.Shaw plays with the cliché that women are seduced by sonnets. It turns out Aurora hasn't even had time to read all the poems. When the husband shows up, Shaw twists our expectations further.

How He Lied to Her Husband is a witty enough minor work. But in a festival that lacks productions of masterworks like Heartbreak House and Saint Joan, one begins to feel there's too much from the lightweight side of Shaw's canon.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2012 D3

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