The Asolo Repertory Theatre brings back Shaw with a difference in Smash.
By Kay Kipling
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has shown a flair for adapting other writers’ work for the stage, something he’s done with Henry James (Turn of the Screw) and Edgar Allan Poe (Murder by Poe), to name just two. Now he’s turned his attention to a writer who himself is better known as a playwright, George Bernard Shaw, adding his own touches to Shaw’s novel The Unsocial Socialist with a play called Smash, onstage at the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
Hatcher updated Shaw’s original a bit, moving the action from the 1880s to 1910 Edwardian England, a time of change from one order to another, especially when it concerned the roles of women. Shaw’s wit always had a point (or several points) behind it, and Hatcher follows in his literary footsteps: While Smash can be enjoyed simply as a comedy with more than a bit of slapstick thrown in, you’ll get more out of it if you pay attention to what people are saying.
Those people include Sidney Trefusis (Paul Molnar), a millionaire Socialist who leaves his wife Henrietta (Kris Danford) on their wedding day so he can begin his life’s work of overthrowing the government. Strangely, he finds the place to do that is an exclusive girls’ college, where he soon enlists the rebellious Agatha (Julie Lachance) to his cause. But Sidney finds it’s a lot harder to change the world—and himself—than he realized.
There are some fairly stock comic characters here: Henrietta’s father (James Clark), who lives in a state of blissful ignorance and prefers it that way; a harridan headmistress (Carolyn Michel); a drunken groundsman (Bradford Wallace); and two unevenly matched couples (David Breitbarth as a lovelorn loser writing poems to strong-willed Gertrude, played by Jennifer Logue, and a bumbling nobleman, played by Matt Brown, pursued by the flirtatious Jane, played by Jessi Blue Gormezano).Director Lillian Groag keeps them busy with lots of physical action, including games of imaginary badminton and, eventually, a spot of revolutionary destruction, on a lovely set of pastoral green by Kate Edmunds.
The cast in general (several of them FSU/Asolo Conservatory students) carries off the often elaborate Shavian dialogue with panache. If I never roared with laughter at any of their antics, it may be because the basic premise of the play and the way it unfolded were just too outlandish, too forced, to sweep me along. In three acts (two intermissions), the evening sometimes felt like much ado about nothing. But it is a pleasure to look at, and I enjoyed the actors’ way with their punchiest lines.
Smash continues in rotating rep at the Asolo Rep through May 3; call 351-8000 or visit asolo.org for tickets.