Diana Donnelly and Ric Reid dance around political ideas in the Shaw Fest’s Peace In Our Time: A Comedy.
PEACE IN OUR TIME: A COMEDY by John Murrell, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Geneva (Shaw). At the Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to October 12. $24-$110. See listings. Rating: NNN
Who knew that a play by George Bernard Shaw could be turned into a laugh-out-loud blend of wit and slapstick?
That's what adaptor John Murrell has done with Shaw's late, rarely produced Geneva, which satirizes the League of Nations, the organization bent on securing international peace after the First World War. We all know how successful that turned out to be.
Initiating the play's action is Belle Browning (Diana Donnelly), an American woman in Geneva who does secretarial work at the Committee for Intellectual Cooperation, though she admits she has no knowledge of or interest in politics. When a series of complainants appear - a German Jew who feels an outsider in his own country (Charlie Gallant), a passionate South American woman seeking justice (Claire Jullien), a desperate Canadian worried about the loss of democracy at home (Andrew Bunker), a British clergyman who dislikes the spread of communism in England (Michael Ball) and a Soviet commissar concerned that Britain intends a counter-revolution in her nation (Moya O'Connell) - she organizes them all to address League authorities.
Ultimately the cases go to the court at the Hague, where the leaders of Italy (Neil Barclay), Germany (Ric Reid) and Spain (Lorne Kennedy) appear to speak in defence of their countries before the senior judge (Sanjay Talwar) and the League secretary (Jeff Meadows).
Director Blair Williams, who performed in the festival's 1988 staging of Geneva, gives Murrell's witty adaptation the spin of a screwball comedy, with quick throwaway lines and fast-paced action that keep the story moving, but never ignores the fact that underneath the laughs are some sobering ideas.
The cast, including Patrick Galligan as the charmingly evasive British foreign secretary, has a great time performing in a large comic style.
The only place that farcical approach doesn't succeed is with the three preening, attention-seeking national leaders, who are, of course, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. Their buffoonery, unnecessarily heavy-handed, soon becomes flat and takes the sting out of the argument.
An occasionally chilling moment wouldn't be out of place, since not only are there parallels to today's out-of-joint world, but almost every character is ruthlessly self-serving beneath the play's satire and amusing veneer.