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Civic Theater Excels With 'Major Barbara'

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Civic Theater Excels With ‘Major Barbara’



LADY BRITOMART---Winnifred Pierce


SARAH UNDERSHAFT---Phyllis Eshelman

CHARLES LOMAX---Allan Schreiber

ADOLPHUS CUSINS---Beverly Pooley

ANDREW UNDERSHAFT---Dr. Jim Bob Stephenson

SNOBBY PRICE---Allan Schreiber

JENNY HILL---Elizabeth Robertson

PETER SHIRLEY---Zeke Jabbour

BILL WALKER---Fred Ouellette

MRS. BAINES---Lois Lintner

BILTON---Dr. Murray Barasch

By Mack Woodruff

A very handsome and effective Civic Theater production of Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara" at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater last night left this reviewer a little stunned and not a little outraged by the remarkable ingenuity of a fine and wily dramatist.

Few plays surely have ever been marked by a greater absence of what would normally be considered the minimal dramatic requisites for success.  "Major Barbara" has little story, less action and no balance.  It is filled with super-rational, non-human characters.  It is guilty of the most bald-faced, unabashed spouting of outword Fabian dogma.

It is, finally, nothing but talk--and this is quite enough; enough to create, in a wealth of words, a fascinating and quite consistent world-of-the-intellect in which the rational chatter and interplay of unbelievable characters becomes believable and purely delightful.

Power Of Words

It is the power the the word--the wonderfully trenchant, witty, epigramatic Shavian word--that has made this preposterous, lopsided drama a favorite for better than half a century.  Perhaps the strongest evidence of Director Jerry Sandler's resourcefulness--and the prime mark of the Civic Theater production's success--has been his ability to find a cast which is consistently capable of saying the "word," perceptively and forcefully.

This is one of the strongest Civic Theater casts that I can remember.  Excellence is evident on every level, from the polished, grandly comic gem-performance of Tom Jennings, Phyllis Wright, Allan Schreiber and Fred Ouellette in secondary parts to Raeburn Hirsch's soft awareness and perfect genuineness in the title role.

Beverly Pooley offers a brilliantly facile performance as Adolphus Cusins, Barbara's opportunist fiance, and Winnifred Pierce is a poised and sure Lady Britomart.

Jim Bob Stephenson is more than up to the task of carrying the Shavian social message.  As Undershaft, the sophist munitions-maker, Stephenson expounds the dramatist's sermon with a twinkling deviltry and flair.

Set Designs Praised

Alice Crawford has provided some very memorable set designs and a quite sensational, if somewhat protracted, special effects sequence in the third act. Costumes by Roberta McClure are quite lovely with masterful comic touches.

Shaw’s social diatribe against the evils of “organized” poverty and the moral horror of conventional philanthropy may well have lost a great deal of its revolutionary edge in the last half century. The finest thing about this grand Civic Theater production—and the surest mark of director Sandler’s total comprehension of Shaw's aims—is the success of the group in building that fragile atmospheric “world of words” in which the audience can believe in and identify with characters who are too Shavian to be real at all.

Performances will be given at 8 p.m. today and Saturday.