George Bernard Shaw Heartbreak House / American Airlines Theater (Roundabout Theatre
George Bernard Shaw Heartbreak House (Harmandsworth, England: Penguin, 1964)
“It is difficult to say whether indifference and neglect are worse than false doctrine; but Heartbreak House and Horseback Hall unfortunately suffered from both.”
—George Bernard Shaw, from his "Introduction" to Heartbreak House
When I announced to my companion Howard in December that I would be seeing George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House in New York, he asked me, with a kind of bemused innocence, whether anyone still read Shaw!
Hesione Hushabye (brilliantly played in the version I witnessed by Swoosie Kurtz) has invited Ellie Dunn to her country house, primarily to thwart Ellie’s “romance” and marriage to Boss Mangan, a boorish industrialist whose mind functions as swiftly as a turtle on the run. Upon Ellie’s arrival no one bothers to greet her, and she is left to the strange inattentions of Mrs. Hushabye’s aging father, Captain Shotover (Philip Bosco), and the ineffective sympathy of their servant, Nurse Guinness, who wanders in and out dispensing Cockney-like endearments such as “ducky” and “poor lamb.” The Captain, who lives in a world apart from those around him, also moves in and out of rooms (as well as, we later discover, in and out of sobriety) in his attempt to attain “the seventh degree of concentration.” Miss Dunn, he proclaims, is the daughter of his boatswain, originally a pirate in China!
You think at once of a whirlpool. At the heart of the whirlpool
is a great silent place where all energy is concentrated. And there,
at the point of concentration, is the Vorticist.
As Heartbreak House moves into its quiet closing upon the terrace, war breaks out, the falling bombs, as in a Futurist fiction (one should recall that Vorticism is often referred to as a kind of English Futurism) resulting in these lost souls’ exhilaration, as—ordered into blackout—Hector races about the house setting it ablaze with lights. Miraculously, the bombs miss the mansion, falling instead in a nearby pit implanted with the Captain’s dynamite, where Mangan and a local burglar (the real pirate Dunn)—the later inexplicably absent in the Roundabout production—have run off to hide. The residents of Heartbreak House are heartbroken all over again, this time on account of the bomb’s missing their target! But, as Hesione and Ellie declare, there is always the chance “they’ll come again tomorrow night.”
Los Angeles, February 6, 2007