A HEALTHY DEBATE
George Bernard Shaw observed that, “The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.” By that standard, the playwright Shaw and his friend and rival, journalist G. K. Chesterton, must have granted one another great courage. Both their sparring and mutual respect are revealed in Provision Theater’s Shaw vs. Chesterton: The Debate.
These two intellectual heavyweights met in Rodin’s studio in 1906, and maintained a friendship despite considerable differences. Shaw was a socialist, atheist, and vegetarian, whereas Chesterton was an apologist, devout Christian, and dedicated carnivore. Differences that could have driven the two apart persisted and a strong friendship grew despite them, a friendship strong enough that both could enjoy an engaging debate. The Provision Theater Company’s founding Artistic Director Timothy Gregory, who adapted the text of their 1927 London debate for the stage, also directs.
The play starts with Shaw (Lawrence McCauley) and Chesterton (Brad Armacost) playing at repartee as they get ready for their onstage debate and also offer the moderator Belloc (Michael Downey) help for his bloody nose. Once the curtain within the curtain rises, Shaw and Chesterton spar, interact with the audience, and poke fun at Belloc. The two address politics, religion, and a variety of other topics selected with assistance from the attendees. Chesterton does make a reveal that silences Shaw, and the possibility of an irrevocable change in their relationship is suggested.
Shaw vs. Chesterton is essentially the debate of the title, but additional flourishes add color and context to this staging. Inseung Park’s set design conveys the necessaries of the period with succinct charm and whimsically echoes the interaction between the performers and the audience by adding chairs to the theater wall. An introductory reel of selections from 20st and 21th century debates (created by Jim Poole) provides an overview of the somewhat less lofty verbal bouts of the years after Chesterton and Shaw.
The play unfolds with alternate episodes of onstage argument and back stage personal exchange. This provides a pleasant balance between the word craft that made these men famous and the friendship that they cultivated despite their differences. While the script lags at intervals, the actors shine with infectious delight. McCauley’s Shaw delivers oratory that is luscious and comic with a bouquet of gentle barbs, while Armacost presents Chesterton’s more conservative beliefs with joyful conviction. While occasionally languid, the evening provides a reassuring document of the possibility of disagreement with mutual respect, of conflict without acrimony.
photos by Megan Gallagher
Shaw vs. Chesterton: The Debate
Provision Theater Company in Chicago
scheduled to end on October 28, 2012
for tickets, call 312-455-0066 or visit http://www.provisiontheater.org
for info on this or other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com