Shaw’s Masterpiece Has More Humor Than Heartbreak at Writers’ Theatre

George Bernard Shaw has always had a great deal to say, and in his comic drama “Heartbreak House” he says plenty.

This three-hour production, which recently opened at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, intends to shine an unflattering light on the British leisured class, who are living on their country estates, filling their vapid lives with romantic dalliances, oblivious to the gathering storm of war.

Written in 1919, the play was set just before World War I. Director William Brown has moved it to an afternoon and evening in the summer of 1940 when the Battle of Britain began.

The Sussex estate, exquisitely designed by Keith Pitts, has 3 inhabitants: patriarch Captain Shotover (John Reeger), his bohemian daughter Hosione Hushabye (Karen Janes Woditsch), and her vain and philandering husband Hector (Martin Yurek).

In short order, guests arrive. First, the young and luminous Ellie Dunn (Atra Asdou), Hosione’s sister Lady Ariadne Utterword (Tiffany Scott) who hasn’t been home for 20 years, Ellie’s father Mazzini Dunn (Kareem Bandealy), Ellie’s elderly suitor Boss Mangan (John Lister), and, much to the surprise of Ariadne, her petulant husband Randall (Kevin Christopher Fox). Later a burglar (Tim Gittings) is discovered, who turns out to be the no-good husband of housekeeper Nurse Guinness (Jeannie Affelder) and the drunken pirate who tormented the captain during his days at sea.

Chaos, laced with Shaw’s wonderful wit and humor, is everywhere, but the night concludes with the sounds of buzz bombs and air raid sirens. Until then Shaw has his say about socialism (a good thing), the decay of British society (a bad thing), and the way women scheme and torment men (good or bad, depending on your gender).

The playwright’s didactic theorizing does go on and on—there are two intermissions—but these characters are well realized and remarkably likable, despite their obvious, but poignant lunacy.

“Heartbreak House” runs Tuesdays to Sundays through June 26 at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. Tickets are $45-$65. Visit writerstheatre.org or call 847-242-6000.