Too True to Be Good, ShawChicago, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Madness outstrips genius in George Bernard Shaw's wonderfully imagined but utterly incoherent 1933 farce satirizing British diplomacy after World War I. The three acts offer only polite echoes of worthier, less self-consciously clever Shaw efforts and never make much sense together. Toward the end of the play, Shaw throws in all sorts of pat tricks--a familiar face from the past, a blunt suggestion that all the action is a character's dream--to try to stitch together his increasingly outlandish non sequiturs. When the first act closes with a talking germ who invites the audience to ignore the next two acts, it's hard not to comply.
Director Robert Scogin wriggles around the issue of the play's merit in his director's notes, but that uncertainty spills over into the production. It's evenhanded, mind you: ShawChicago always treats Shaw's scripts as more than curious artifacts, and the company's concert-reading performance serves this wordy, intellectually charged work well. But one gets the sense that Scogin and his cast aren't leading the play but are being led by it, as though they haven't come to terms with its many imperfections. Still, ShawChicago's interpretation is a valiant one. Steve Cardamone's passionate, nuanced recitation of the play's profoundly dull closing sermon in particular demonstrates why the company inspires--and deserves--the unwavering trust accorded it.