IN GOOD KING CHARLES’S GOLDEN DAYS, ShawChicago, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Expertly revived by ShawChicago, this infrequently acted curiosity from 1939 began life as a screenplay. It’s just as well no film was ever made–the script’s too static for moving pictures. But Robert Scogin’s chamber-theater staging pulses with George Bernard Shaw’s seemingly effortless wit.
Rejoicing in his own anachronisms and contrivances, Shaw convenes characters from Restoration England, meeting improbably in Sir Isaac Newton’s library. They include the surprisingly religious scientist, who hopes to find God in an equation; George Fox, the dour founder of the Quakers; the disputatious court painter Godfrey Kneller; and Charles II in disguise. Shaw also throws in three of the king’s mistresses–amiable actress Nell Gwynn and two duchesses, the charming Frenchwoman Louise de Keroualle and the imperious harridan Barbara Villiers. They all challenge one another on various subjects: women as actors, the wickedness of the stage, truth in portraiture, the role of make-believe in religion and the court, the idiocy of Parliament, sectarian pretensions, and the likelihood of love turning into loathing. It’s a feast of reason served appetizingly, especially by Tony Dobrowolski’s archly arbitrating Charles, Matthew Penn’s Newton, and Donald Ilko’s Fox.
The script’s drawback is an irrelevant 20-minute third act set in a boudoir, a stiffly didactic love scene between Charles and his Portuguese wife that allows Shaw to declaim about the perils of governing the English. The treat here is the meeting of minds in Newton’s library.