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By George

at the Loeb last night, gratis

By James Lardner

IF FLUKE, By George has to be a happy one; if a precedent, it should be praised to the skies. By which I don't mean to invite a chain of one-man Bernard Shaw impersonations, but of other free entertainments equally worthwhile. A tall order, maybe, but not hopelessly impractical. Not quite. Even though the audience had a corporate windfall to thank for last night's open house, more of the same could conceivably come about through the long-term machinations, of the English faculty and the Loeb administration, particularly if their efforts were backed up by a small allotment of funds for that express purpose.

No one, of course, is likely to level violent criticism against the notion of theatre without cost. Some may wonder, though, why and whether Harvard undergraduates should be considered prime candidates for such charity. And By George in a single evening stated the case rather eloquently, drawing more students than has many a Loeb show in the typical eight-performance run. A price of sorts had to be paid for this achievement, but somehow or other last night's spectators got along despite the notable absence of a large share of the Loeb's usual clientele--the proverbial ladies from Malden, who pay prices at which most undergraduates for some reason balk.

Not all the foregoing cheap sentiment is designed to stave off consideration of the actual event. Max Adrian is an ingratiating performer and a hardworking actor, and his night of Shavian lore (mostly letters and autobiographical fragments) really works. If it does not, on the other hand, make Shaw's presence a more vivid one, it is because the subject's real life was as a writer rather than a personality, a writer sufficiently great that his prose truly outshone his person. Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that a portrayal will seem to diminish Shaw's stature as much as it throws light on his character.

Besides those obstacles intrinsic in the attempt to bring Shaw to life, a few of By George's flaws are Mr. Adrian's, like a build that edges too far from Shaw's gaunt profile, and an accent not in all respects sufficiently malleable. But even apart from the question of looking a gift-horse down the throat, there is no call for gripes, minor or major, about Mr. Adrian's pleasantly contrived evening. The selections themselves, made by Michael Voysey, are for the most part engrossing, and there are times, as with Shaw's mockery of Sir Henry Irving's performance in Arthur Conan Doyle's Waterloo, when Mr. Adrian works wonders with his material.

One complaint: inasmuch as Shaw had little use for his first name, isn't the title By George a needless affront? In its place, how about St. Bernard?

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