GENEVA, ShawChicago, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Continuing its literary dig, ShawChicago unearths more of the fascinating strata of George Bernard Shaw. This 1938 protest play satirizes the League of Nations; infuriatingly irrelevant, the league’s Intellectual Co-operation Committee dithers in its Swiss refuge as the world catches fire. Shaw’s prophetic play also addresses the challenge of imposing international law on war criminals. But sadly it’s clear that this is the work of an 82-year-old genius. Scattershot, diffuse, and underinspired, it plays like an editorial with characters.
Shaw’s most inventive concoction is Begonia Brown, a throwback to Eliza Doolittle. A cockney spitfire who turns respectable when elected to Parliament, she’s a merry mouthpiece for Shaw’s attack on an institution mired in nationalism and ideology while tyrants went on with their killing. Brought before the Hague’s Court of International Justice, Shaw’s German, Italian, and Spanish dictators–Battler, Bombardone, and General Flanco–arrogantly declare themselves above the law. But, as Shaw slyly ends the play, “They came…” (Indeed, the Nuremberg trials were just eight years away.)
Robert Scogin’s energetic staging piles charm on top of wit, with Adrianne Cury delightfully outspoken as Begonia, Duane Sharp splenetic as Bombardone, and Joseph Bowen ditheringly ineffectual as the British foreign minister. Only this splendid cast makes this play, which failed in its 1940 U.S. premiere, worth another look.