The Millionairess

By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Mary McGinley
Westside Repertory Theatre
252 West 81st Street (874-7290)
Non-union production (closes October 18th)
Review by Steve Gold

Bernard Shaw has always seemed an incomplete writer because he never really acknowledged Man's darker impulses. With his optimistic faith in self-help and vigorous exercise, he refused to admit the existence of radical evil. His plays, for the most part, mirror his cheery view of things. The Millionairess is typical Shaw, and while often amusing, is not among his best efforts.

At the center of this coincidence-filled story is one of Shaw's most insufferably overbearing creations, the hugely wealthy Epifania Fitzfassenden (played with gusto by Mireille Enos). She has arrived at the law office of Julius Sagamore (Tod Mason), ostensibly to plan her will since she intends to commit suicide over her philandering husband, Alistair (Ledger Free). He, along his mistress Patricia (Alexandra Devin), shows up at the office while she is there, followed by Epifania's lover Adrian (Michael B. Healey). Alistair wants a separation. In spite of her own philandering, Epifania is hesitant. Arguments ensue, but nothing is settled.

The next act, in the coffee room of a dingy inn called the Pig & Whistle, introduces an Egyptian doctor (Mario Prado) who attends to Epifania after she has a fist fight with Adrian (she beats him up). Surprisingly, they hit it off, resulting in their concoction of a mutual challenge: he is to turn a small sum of money into a large sum; she, in turn, must earn her own living for six months. If both are successful, they will marry.

Act III delineates Epifania's introduction to, and subsequent reorganizing of, a sweatshop run by a practical couple (Kip Yates, Sue Ellen Mandell) who are thoroughly intimidated by this breezily ruthless force of nature--El Nino in high heels. The final act is set in a newly renovated Pig & Whistle, run by an eager-to-please manager (Shawn Willett) and financed by Epifania's success in the sweatshop business. All of the main characters are present, thereby allowing Shaw to tie up the plot's rather loose ends.

The performers, under Mary McGinley's crisp direction, handled the mountain of dialogue with notable aplomb, and they all offered sharply defined performances. This was no minor achievement, since most of the male roles are, as written, ineffectual and vaguely silly. The period costumes by Ms. McGinley and Doug Devita--satin and saddle shoes--were sufficient to get the job done. The sets (T. Paul Lowery), sound (Alan Sermok) and lighting (Mr. Lowery) were simple and effective.

During the performance, a large water bug unexpectedly wandered onto the stage. It was promptly disposed of by Alistair. In no way did this event lessen the evening's enjoyment. If it occurs again, however, Epifania should be the one to handle the intruder; she is, after all, a born exterminator.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 Steve Gold