The Philanderer, ShawChicago, at Chicago Cultural Center. For this refreshingly personal 1893 curiosity George Bernard Shaw drew as much on his diary as on his intellectual insights into the war between the sexes. Leonard Charteris, the title character, finds himself trapped between two adorers who both pretend to model themselves on Ibsen’s “new woman.” One proves to be a merely conventional “womanly woman” who uses her wiles to gain her ends while the other, a true mistress of her fate, is too free to marry. In Shaw’s characteristically perverse take on Ibsen, a smoothie like Leonard can be as promiscuous as he likes as long as he acknowledges a woman’s equal independence. Shaw also takes surprisingly contemporary potshots at theater critics (he was one), political correctness (a trait he never had), and animal experimentation (he wishes a plague on both sides).
As always, Robert Scogin’s deft ensemble are on top of every turn, even though this comedy is somewhat cumbersome; the cast is so good you can travel back 110 years just by closing your eyes. Matthew Penn inhabits the self-obsessed Leonard, an early Henry Higgins, body and soul, and Adrianne Cury as his enlightened girlfriend is all light, and Alyson Green all heat as the predatory female. Michael McAlister blusters well in a delicious subplot in which his duffer character discovers that his supposed terminal diagnosis is mistaken, and Terence Gallagher is hilarious as the vivisectionist who sees his reputation–and his research–destroyed.