George Bernard Shaw’s proto-absurdist play was a flop in its 1910 premiere; but time has affirmed the strengths of this often very funny work. Set in a rambling country house, it starts out as a meandering romantic comedy full of the usual flirtations and follies: underwear magnate John Tarleton is planning for his daughter Hypatia’s marriage to upper-class twit Bunny Summerhays, not knowing of Hypatia’s secret flirtations with other men–including Bunny’s father, a retired colonial officer more comfortable with foreign “heathens” than his own family. But Shaw transforms the weekend-in-the-country genre by having adventure literally drop from the sky, in the form of Polish aviatrix Lina Szczepanowska, a sexually independent superwoman who shakes up the stifled lives of the play’s aimless English. Her unexpected arrival is followed by the intrusion of Gunner, the homicidally vengeful son of Tarleton’s abandoned lover. Launching the second full season of the city-sponsored Shaw Chicago series, this staged reading directed by Andrew Callis features quality actors performing with scripts in hand. Though the physical humor leaves something to be desired in this format, the conversational scenes are effective, conveyed in all their ruefully witty complexity by a team of very fine performers: Donald Brearley’s and John Judd’s dialogues as the two fathers are nearly perfect in their emotional subtlety. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 78 E. Washington (enter at 77 E. Randolph), 744-7648. Through October 8: Sundays, 2 and 7 PM; Mondays, 7 PM. Free; reservations are required.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Taylor Boyle-Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.