& Classical Theatre has just concluded another enterprising season with a stellar production of Hobson's Choice.
Written by Harold Brighouse in 1916, but set in Salford (near Manchester), England in 1880, the play is a send-up
of the Victorian era largely through Edwardian eyes.
Directed at full throttle - 3 acts
in 2 ¼ hours - by Andrew S. Paul, enough of the dark edges (parental tyranny, societal inequity, alcoholism) of the
nineteenth century are reflected to make the show more than the broad comedy by which it is better known, especially through
David Lean's 1954 movie starring Charles Laughton and John Mills. But there's a happy mix of greed, vanity,
comeuppance, and self-importance to keep us all well satisfied. Two of the leads, Michael Ball and Simon Bradbury, playing
the eponymous boot-shop proprietor and his rags-to-riches cobbler Will, respectively, have performed the show for two seasons
(1996 & 1997) at the Shaw Festival, which generously supplied the sumptuous costuming; while the talented Derdriu Ring,
cast as the formidable Maggie, firmly establishes the dramatic and romantic beachhead. They are ably assisted by the
other nine actors who round out this well-cast show.
A palace revolt is already brewing when
the widower Hobson announces that his two youngest daughters (but not Maggie who's over the hill at 30!), played by Laurel
Schroeder and Kiley Caughey, must be wed; while he soon reneges on his decision, aided in part by fellow merchant, the ever-sympathetic
Roger Jerome, the die is cast: a young store owner and (gasp) a lawyer, John Wascavage and Joseph Domencic, are waiting in
the wings for their intendeds. Maggie's first out of the gate, however, with a deep plan that will turn the tables
on everyone, including an unsuspecting minion below. All that's required to get things going is the arrival of Kathleen
Huber, an imperious dowager, and a cat-fight over Will with an assist from his stage betrothed Mary Liz Meyer. And to
end it, the stern admonitions to Hobson by the doctor, played by Jon Farris, which, together with the intervention of Maggie,
puts paid to his bibulous and bumptious career. It is with a bit of regret you see the chastened Hobson depart the stage
for his new temperate life.
Hobson's Choice is billed as a comedic King Lear
and I suppose it is that, though you'd never mistake the scrappy Maggie for Cordelia. Call it part Cinderella
story and part Pygmalion tale, with the sexes reversed, which Shaw was happy to exploit earlier in his own play (1912). The
take-it-or-leave-it option which hearkens back to the play's title might be a reflection of the new Darwinian (or Spencerian)
world view. Privilege was about to give way to ability, transcending class and gender. The pompous Hobson, who
is also given real dignity by Mr. Ball, is on a steady slide regardless; his regrettable choices merely hasten his fall. Ms.
Ring's Maggie is one tough cookie who reveals a soft center when on stage with the engaging and protean Mr. Bradbury,
particularly during the late wedding night events, where the action is appropriately slowed.
this comedy cum morality play, justice is served, marital partners are found, and the future looks sunny - the progressive
march of social equality and economic success for those who work hard looks assured. Though Victorian views seem
no more misguided than those of our own times, the optimism and humor are a bracing corrective for these sobering days, offering
plenty of holiday good cheer.
Gianni Downs has crafted a marvelous 3-act set, adjustable
for the boot-shop, cellar dwellings, and parlor from which the action unfolds. The spot-on lighting of Christopher Popowich
sets the mood and pulls whatever color there is from the mostly brownish set and highlights Joan Markert's costume selection.
Erik T. Lawson's elevated period sound will get you in mind of Brassed Off. The prestissimo pacing leaves
some of the meaning obscure in dialect coach Natalie Baker Shirer's otherwise admirable efforts to delineate class and
While you are too late for this show and season, anchored by
the outstanding summer Pinter Festival, PICT's line-up for next year look's even better. They're billing
it as "Dynamic Duos": Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, Ayckbourn's House & Garden
(two separate plays being performed simultaneously by the same cast on two stages), Wilde's The Importance of
Being Earnest (adapted and directed by Conall Morrison with an all-male cast), David Mamet's conflict-laden Race
(2009), and Hugh Leonard's (Da) The Mask of Moriarty. Opposites both attract and repel in 2011.
Check PICT's website for dates and times. With a line-up like this for your consideration, you might want to cast your theatergoing votes one
way only - early and often!
Additional cast: David Tabish
John F. Glass December 19, 2011 - All rights reserved