The Theatre: Marvelous Boy

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 5)

Heartbreak House is the one play that G. B. S. himself has refused to explain. "How should I know?" he told actors who asked him what it meant: "I am only the author." But Shaw provided meaning enough when he asserted that Heartbreak House is "cultured, leisured Europe before the War," just as he evoked mood enough when he acknowledged that Chekhov had sounded the same music in his Cherry Orchard.

Here, at any rate, under the aged Shotover's crazy roof, are inert, frightened, hamstrung individualists who in moments of terror can double up their fists but otherwise stand by, dazed and helpless. The world of Heartbreak House is not merely running down, it is cracking up: and in that dangerous hour the pretensions of its people—who represent an entire civilization—are mercilessly exposed by a playwright who despises them. If, on the one hand, these characters are the prototypes for all the bughouse comedy that has recently come into vogue, on the other hand some of theare Hamlets feigning madness to avoid going mad in earnest. Heartbreak House has the deceptive structure of an accordion: pushed in, it looks like a congested comedy of eccentrics; but pulled out to its full length, with Captain Shotovers booming prophecies, with its stabs of pathos, with its acrobats who suddenly are transformed into an anguished Laocoon group, it utters an almost Biblical warning. As for the "timeliness" that the Mercury Theatre noted, there are speeches like Shot-over's: "The Captain is in his bunk, drinking bottled ditchwater; and the crew is gambling in the forecastle. She [the ship] will strike and sink and split. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favor of England because you were born in it?"

Pluck 6 Luck. If the career of the Mercury Theatre, which next week will be six months old, seems amazing, the career of Orson Welles, who this week is 23, is no less so. Were Welles's 23 years set forth in fiction form, any self-respecting critic would damn the story as too implausible for serious consideration.

George Orson Welles (the George is for George Ade, a family friend) is the son of an inventor and a concert pianist. His father, Richard Head Welles, invented among other things: 1) a mechanical dishwasher which broke all the dishes, 2) a collapsible picnic set which the Government bought in large quantities for doughboys and which, according to Son Orson, "contributed greatly to the horrors of the War."

Born in Kenosha, Wis., Orson before the age of ten was a professional actor, ma-ing $25 a day dressed up as Peter Rabbit in Chicago's Marshall Field's. At twelve, in the progressive Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Ill., Orson was staging his first production of Julius Caesar—in which he played the Soothsayer, Cassius and Marc Antony with relay-race technique.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5