By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Sabrina Lloyd
February 26, 27, March 2-6, 2010 at 7:30 pm
March 6 at 2:00 pm
Ruth N. Halls Theatre
What a gift to be able to share with you, for my thesis production, one of George Bernard Shaw’s great plays, Major Barbara.
As I continue to experience the work, Major Barbara continues to unfold to me. From being captivated by the printed text to populating the words with actors who create a three-dimensional world, it brings me new delights every evening. It is so full of humor, intellect, passion, and compassion. It is shocking to me that many of the ideas he proposed a century ago are still vital and are still being debated, tested and contended today. Shaw often addresses human progress and how individuals push us to evolve. Many of his plays are concerned with "great people," the rare few whose talents, commitment, and focus have blazed a path for the rest of us to follow.
Major Barbara Undershaft is not one of those people. She is us. I would like Barbara to be the next Ghandi or the next Martin Luther King Jr., just as much as I would like someone to be them. But she is not. I must forgive her, as I forgive myself, for being human. I must celebrate her for being human. Major Barbara shows the constant negotiations we make with others and with ourselves when faced with desires, conflicts, and opportunities. Shaw illustrates how, as we get older, our focus shifts from the grand and ambitious to the personal and local. We will adapt and rationalize our ideals to allow for our desires. He illustrates how, when extreme thoughts meet and debate, both can grow and learn and move closer to each other.
Why 1964? 1964 was a year of uncertainty with the cold war, gender roles, youth culture; times, they were a changing. What better time to pit socialist against capitalist, man against woman, parent against child, rich against poor, pacifist against war monger, and as a way of introducing the Shavian idea of "the new man". In London you have the famous youth war between the working class "rockers" and the more educated "mods". The Empire was coming home and there was a lot of uncertainty about national standing. With the threat of mutual assured destruction looming in the air, people were seeking answers to the highest questions, why do we exist? How should we live? Are we born who we are, or are we made who we are? Is there free will? 1964 gives us a frame to perceive through which we understand, it’s a closer yesterday than 1900, and puts us in the position of seeing humanity’s journey through a longer lens. Shaw’s text continues to be relevant. It challenges us to understand that our concerns, our struggles, our journeys are not necessarily unique to a time and place, but are perhaps instead simply part of being human.
Why take the work out of the time in which it was written? Because it was not written for its own time, it was written for all time. In order to illustrate the cyclic nature of human experience, by looping it from its time to a more recent yesterday, and then to our experience of it today, we are better able to see the pattern. Could we make that jump on our own? Perhaps. One can only speculate what Shaw would have done if a time machine could bring him with us, he was not opposed to cutting or moving forward his own works in time while he was still living, and in his time he was greatly constrained by censors in being able to express his visions fully. I choose to believe he would continue to evolve, would want to reach theatre audiences in the way unique to theatre, locally, temporarily, collaboratively, and immediately.
I give to you a great evening of laughter, and later, debate. Let Shaw start the conversation, and let us all continue it.