The Millionairess, Next Theatre and ShawChicago, at Next Theatre Company. Most George Bernard Shaw plays are the theatrical equivalent of a five-course dinner: they satisfy your every appetite. And that’s why ShawChicago director Robert Scogin favors concert readings: he’d rather focus on Shaw’s powerful, exacting language than deal with the potential distraction of unnecessary artifice. Scogin’s typically understated direction and uncanny ability to draw every last nuance from Shaw’s scripts seemed to make him the perfect match with Next Theatre–a company with a steady hand for this type of costume drama–on Shaw’s seldom produced 1936 The Millionairess.
Gulford Jimson’s opulent, art deco-style set ably hints at the decadence of the proceedings. And the cast–including ShawChicago regulars Terence Gallagher and Steve Cardamone–turn in fine performances. But they’re all dressed up (in Vicky J. Strei’s impossibly smart costumes) with nowhere to go. Shaw’s dialogue reads like a series of belligerent aphorisms, and with the exception of a screw-loose Egyptian doctor, there isn’t a truly human character in the bunch.
If anyone could master an unruly beast like The Millionairess, it seems it would have been Scogin. But this production doesn’t play to either company’s strengths. The fatal flaw isn’t in conception or execution–it’s just that this is a decidedly lesser Shaw work.