John Bull's Other Island | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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John Bull's Other Island

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You have said things in this play which are entirely true about Ireland, things which nobody has ever said before," William Butler Yeats told George Bernard Shaw about this 1904 comedy, Shaw's sardonic response to the legend-obsessed lyricism of the neo-Gaelic movement, of which Yeats was a part. Many of the play's details are antiquated today; but its truest elements remain true, and not only of Ireland. By turns raucous, poignant, and chilling, it concerns a blustery British land developer, Tom Broadbent, who comes to an Irish village preaching political liberty but practicing economic and cultural exploitation. Turning the community on its head with his charm and visionary enthusiasm, he wins the hand of a local heiress as well as the town's seat in Parliament, aided by his Irish-expatriate business partner Larry Doyle, whose diffidence about his heritage mirrors Shaw's. The play contrasts not only cultural characteristics but two views of life--the ruthless efficiency of Broadbent and the spirituality of the mad, mystical Father Keegan--a conflict that shapes our world as it did Shaw's. The most recent in Shaw Chicago's revelatory series of concert readings of neglected Shavian scripts, John Bull's Other Island is performed by a team of fine local actors whose skillful accents and inflections bring the text to life. Especially vivid are Belinda Bremner as the heiress Nora, a figure of almost Chekhovian pathos whose country elegance repels Doyle (whom she loves) but charms Broadbent (whom she doesn't), and Donald Brearley as Keegan, whose seeming flakiness masks a moral ferocity. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 78 E. Washington (enter at 77 E. Randolph), 744-7648. Sunday, January 14, 2 and 7 PM. Free, but reservations are required. --Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still.

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