The satiric wit of George Bernard Shaw is entertaining Copley audiences this week in two plays, and proving equally delightful in both. In "Great Catherine", a farce in four scenes, the playwright pokes fun at the foibles of the court of Catherine the Great, while in "The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet", he transports the audience to the American Great West to watch the trial of a horse thief and incidentally to listen to a philosophical disquisition on life.
Before the curtain finally settled on the closing scene of "Great Catherine" last Monday night, it had to rise some ten or a dozen times for the audience to express its approval. The general enthusiasm continued as high during the second play, and indeed increased, for the presence on the stage of Mr. Clive brought, as it always does, more zest to the acting of everybody.
As for "Great Catherine", the play was the thing rather than the interpretation of the players. It is a piece of gorgeous satire and rollicking wit. The burden of the plot concerns the efforts of an English officer at the court to keep free of the entangling wiles of the empress. Alan Mowbray, in the part, succeeded in doing this, but he did not develop a very consistent or convincing character. Jessamine Newcombe portrayed the imperial Catherine, lovely, regal, and almost barbaric enough, while Mr. Hulse was a glorious drunken chancellor whom G. B. S. very kindly provided with lines sufficiently scintillating to inspire anyone to a brilliant performance.
How the trial of a horse thief may bring into play the entire range of human emotions is demonstrated in "The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet." Mr. Clive in the title role experienced most of those emotions himself, and whether he was jeering wickedly at God and Man or offering to marry the woman whom the court thought too soiled even to take an oath on the Bible, he carried the audience breathlessly along with him. The play is labelled "A Religious Tract in Dramatic Form", but although the description is just enough, it ought not to be allowed to prejudice anyone. The "religious tract" is a rare combination of uproarious wit, and preaching which is sometimes in deadly earnest, sometimes more than half in jest, and sometimes you can't quite be sure which. It is sufficient praise to the Copley players to add that such a piece loses nothing in their hands.