THEATRE REVIEW: PEACE IN OUR TIME
Pictured: Neil Barclay
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
09 JUNE 2013
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Some masterpieces exist for all time, some simply for their time — and while Bernard Shaw’s GENEVA is something far less than a masterpiece, it is, nonetheless, a work for its time. Set in the city of title, GENEVA is Shaw’s ill-fated attempt to awaken the world (and the now defunct League of Nations) before it was plunged into global conflict in the Second World War.
When GENEVA premiered in Warsaw in 1938, Czechoslovakia had fallen to Hitler and Poland was in his sights — and it was daring indeed to mount a play which saw ill-disguised send-ups of the Führer of the Third Reich and his nasty friends called to task, even fictitiously, for their growing list of outrages.
Problem was, no one had any idea of the extent of those outrages. Within mere months of GENEVA’s première, Hitler and the gang established that what they were up to was no laughing matter and GENEVA was deservedly branded a problem play and consigned to the dustbin. Even an attempt to revive it here at the Shaw Festival, where the Shavian flame burns brightest, proved less than successful in 1988. But today, with Jackie Maxwell at the helm, some of Shaw’s more problematic works are getting a second chance, as modern-day playwrights ‘collaborate posthumously’ with the late and now cooperative playwright in an attempt to make some of his plays more palatable to modern audiences. Under Maxwell’s auspices, playwright John Murrell has re-worked GENEVA, rechristened it PEACE IN OUR TIME: A COMEDY and offered it up on the stage of the Court House Theatre, where it opened Friday under the brisk direction of Blair Williams, working with a cast that is nothing if not enthusiastic.
Murrell maintains the Shavian conceit that sets the action in the court of the League of Nations, headquartered in Geneva, where a group of the world’s unhappy dispossessed — a Spanish widow (Claire Jullien), a German Jew (Charlie Gallant), an Anglican Bishop (Michael Ball), a British diplomat (Patrick Galligan) and a Soviet Commissar (Moya O’Connell) are joined by an American ingenue (Diana Donnelly) and a disgruntled Canadian conservative (Andrew Bunker) in an attempt to force Il Duce (Neil Barclay), Der Führer (Ric Reid) and El Generalisimo (Lorne Kennedy) to answer for the outrages they have committed. Jeff Meadows, Kevin McGarry and Sanjay Talwar round out the cast.
Problem is, those outrages were far more than even Shaw could appreciate. When GENEVA was written, it thumbed its nose at men who threatened world peace and made them look like fools. Today, regardless of how it is rewritten, it thumbs its nose at men who did more than threaten the world — men who plunged the world into a global conflict and unleashed a genocide all but unparalleled in the civilized world.
And any attempt to make these monsters look like mere fools, diminishes not only their evil but the courage it took to topple them as well. This is one dog that should have been left to doze.