Jitta’s Atonement, ShawChicago, at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. At the conclusion of World War I, Austrian writer Siegfried Trebitsch, who’d translated many of George Bernard Shaw’s plays to great success, faced two crises that might have ended his career: his country lay in ruins, and he was in danger of becoming known principally as Shaw’s translator. So Shaw offered a modest reparation. He would translate his translator’s newest play despite a near complete unfamiliarity with the German language. Using “some telepathic method of absorption,” he divined the story of Jitta, whose affair with her husband’s colleague ends when the man suffers a fatal heart attack during one of their trysts. Piecing together Jitta’s attempts to atone for her transgression, Shaw made so many changes that Trebitsch’s gloomy tragedy became a sparkling comedy.
Thanks to broad, one-dimensional acting, director Robert Scogin’s rudimentary staged reading–actors stationed at music stands read their parts–takes a good hour to throw its first spark. Shaw altered Trebitsch’s first act the least, and the heavy-handed melodrama feels particularly unconvincing given the performers’ unwillingness to dig for subtext. But in the third act, when Shaw’s witticisms take center stage and the cast can finally engage in a bit of fun, they generate enough warmth to make the show worthwhile.