GBS rail strike
Misalliance. Starring Philip Bosco, Patricia Elliott. Comedy by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Stephen Porter. The Roundabout Theater Company has enlivened the summer season immeasurably with this sparkling revival. Staged by Stephen Porter, the 1910 comedy revels in rambunctious jollities, spirited confrontations, and the preposterous surprises with which Shaw jolts his unprepared characters. If time has provided a kind of shock absorber for latter-day audiences, it has merely seasoned the Shavian mischief and wit.
The central misalliance of the title is the engagement between textile heiress Hypatia Tarleton (Jeanne Ruskin) and Bentley (Bunny) Summerhays (Keith McDermott), the petulant young son of Lord Summerhays (Fred Stuthman), a former colonial governor. Needless to say, the prospective union between commerce and the aristocracy is scarcely more than enough to get Shaw started.
The glassed patio of Tarleton's Surrey mansion soon becomes the scene for the disclosure of assorted giddy liaisons. The revelations are accompanied by, if not subordinate to, the author's numerous social concerns. With indefatigable energy, he sails into the usual cross currents of debates, pronouncements, and theories. Before relationships have been sorted out, everyone has had his or her articulate say.
The three chief polemical spouters are Tarleton senior (Philip Bosco), the self- made, self-educated, intellectually speculative underwear tycoon; daughter Hypatia, whose boldness and calculated wiles bewilder aviator Joey Percival (Peter Coffield) into delirious submission; and Lina Szczepanowska (Patricia Elliott), the Polish trapeze artist whose declaration of feminine independence would not shame Betty Friedan. Nor should one forget Gunner (Anthony Heald), the surprise intruder who comes to kill Tarleton but who remains to fire off a fusillade of socialist rhetoric before yielding to the maternal protection of Mrs. Tarleton (Patricia O'Connell).
Yet for all of his satire and funmaking, Shaw regards these misallied mortals with affection. There is not one truly unlikable character on the premises. Because of the Irishman's puckish tolerance, "Misalliance" glistens with what Sean O'Casey called the "silvery thread of laughter" that "runs through all of Shaw's plays."
The play runs the gamut from high comedy to farce. Shaw subtitled it "A Debate in One Sitting." Considering that the agenda, among other topics, includes family relationships, the British class system, democracy, justice, colonialism, education, convention, literature, commerce, and art, Mr. Porter has considerately inserted an intermission.
Under th Porter guidance, the actors at Roundabout Stage One play the comedy with unfailing gusto and with the kind of infectious enjoyment that radiates the very joy of life. Mr. Bosco and Miss Elliott are magnificent, and Miss Ruskin is a captivating Hypatia. Messrs. McDermott, Coffield, and Heald contribute in particular ways to the liveliness of the revival. The attractive turn-of-the-century designs are by Roger Mooney (setting), Jane Greenwood (costumes), and Ronald Wallace (lighting), with some nice incidental music by Philip Campanella. The Dance and the Railroad Play by David Henry Hwang. Directed and choreographed by John Lone.
After its initial success at the New Federal Theater, "The Dance and the Railroad" has come to the Public/Anspacher Theater for an open- ended run. In a work that runs less than 70 minutes, David Henry Hwang skillfully employs the drama's means to recall and illumine an unfamiliar incident in the Asian- American experience.
The historic incident was the 1867 strike by immigrant Chinese laboring on the trans- continental railroad. The workers' action and their partial victory lead Mr. Hwang to make a number of specific points about an obscure chapter in American frontier and labor history.
Instead of focusing on the dispute itself, Hwang imagines how two of the striking workers might have passed the time during the brief walkout. He tells what happens when Lone (John Lone -- the actors play themselves in this drama), an austere and reclusive former dance trainee, receives a visit at his mountaintop retreat from Ma (Tzi Ma), a callow newcomer with delusions of talent. Treated at first with derision, the cheerfully brash and self-confident Ma finally persuades Lone to initiate him into the disciplines of a complex and sophisticated theater form.
Hwang uses the situation to create a microcosm of a typical Chinese immigrant's experience and at the same time to sketch the backgrounds of this alien odd couple. Contorting himself to perform what he considers demeaning exercises, Ma begins to acquire some rudimentary self-control.
Finally, the two men improvise an opera of their own. The dazzling impromptu propels "The Dance and the Railroad" to an exhilarating climax before news of the strike's end precipitates also the end of the brief but intense relationship.
As he has already proved with "FOB" ("Fresh Off the Boat"), Mr. Hwang enjoys a particular gift for giving eloquent, comic, and touching expression to the struggles and predicaments of characters who may seem at first remote to the casual playgoer. Hwang plays have a poignant immediacy. Mr. Lone, a very remarkable actor-dancer, creates a vivid image of the proudly remote loner and mountaintop mentor, while Mr. Ma completes the double portrait with his naively ambitious Ma.
Contributing creatively to this small gem of atmospheric playmaking are Karen Schulz's set, Victor En Yu Tan's lighting for various times of day, and the charmingly performed musical accompaniments composed by Mr. Lone and Walter Carlos. Lone also directed and choreographed "The Dance and the Railroad."