“Batten down the hatches” and “secure the lifeboats” are terms frequently uttered by ship mates whose vessel is under attack, For the world weary Captain Shotover, those were his glory days when he commanded a ship under siege, fighting off angry marauders or holding the wheel steady during a raging typhoon. Now at the advanced age of 88, he is confined to his house, called Heartbreak House, one that resembles his beloved ship and he is desperately trying to invent something to fill the family coffers and also to survive the encroaching World War that the English are fighting. To enter Captain Shotover’s chaotic world, let the Hartford Stage sail in a splendid production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House” for your enjoyment until Sunday, June 11.
Be well advised to enter Heartbreak House with caution for the inhabitants balance precariously on the ship’s deck trying to secure life and love, with varying degrees of success. The young and naive Ellie Dunn, a sweet determined Dani De Waal, has been invited to visit the house by Captain Shotover’s daughter Hesione Hushabye, a socially gifted Charlotte Parry, who enjoys playing games with people’s feelings. She is concerned that Ellie is wasting her life by getting engaged to the pompous Boss Mangan, a boastful Andrew Long, who is years older than Ellie and bears a remarkable resemblance, comb over and all, to our current president.
Hesione gets the reticent Ellie to reveal her true feelings: she has fallen in love with a daring man of adventure Marcus Darling but she will marry Mr. Mangan for his wealth and to help her father Mazzini Dunn, a modest Keith Reddin. In the past, Mr. Mangan had set up her father in business and she feels an obligation to him. Ellie’s eyes are rudely opened, however, when she discovers her beloved Mr. Darling is in fact Hesione’s husband Hector, a conniving and storytelling Stephen Barker Turner.
While Ellie is welcomed into the family unit, the long absent younger Shotover daughter, Lady Adriadne Utterword, a strong voiced Tessa Auberjonois, is thoroughly dismayed that no one seems to care she has been away for twenty-three years and has finally returned. Adriadne
is accompanied by her peevish and childish husband’s brother Randall, a mincing Grant Goodman. She fails to forgive her father, the Captain, captured in all his eccentricity by Miles Anderson, for his lack of welcome. The daughters’ nurse, Guinness, an accommodating Mary VanArsdel, tries to keep the peace as she has done since their childhood.
The country is at war and the house is a ship under attack. When bombs fall, they are the source of fear for some, but exhilaration for others. Many of the inhabitants have their hearts broken in affairs of love while the citizens of England are heartbroken by the war. Shaw comments on the political climate and lays blame in many directions. The ship set designed by Colin McGurk is outstanding as are the costumes created by Ilona Somogyi. In true Shavian style, Darko Tresnjak steers this ship through the clouds of war and agonies of love with style and aplomb..
For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
All aboard the sailing vessel commandeered by George Bernard Shaw and Captain Shotover for an adventurous ride straight to Sussex, England in 1914 for navigation lessons in love, politics and dynamite making.