Living off the Fat of the Landlord

Aurora revives Shaw’s play with an all-star cast.


Published:

Megan Trout (seated) as Blanche Sartorius and Sarah Mitchell (kneeling) as the Parlor Maid fight a class war, Victorian-style, in George Bernard Shaw’s rarely staged Widowers’ Houses.

Photo by David Allen

Although written in the late Victorian Era, the biting satire coming up at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company centers on a moral dilemma about predatory capitalism that’s lost none of its currency. An upper-class but impoverished young doctor falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy businessman, but the doctor is scandalized when he finds out that his future father-in-law is a slumlord and the young couple has been living off tainted money. Will he risk his relationship to stand by his idealistic principles or shrug off his compromised position as simply the way of the world?

Widowers’ Houses is the first play George Bernard Shaw wrote, in 1892, and touches on themes he would explore in more depth in his more fully realized later works.

Aurora has done terrific work with Shaw, alongside more contemporary plays, since the company’s first official production in 1992 with Candida. (That was after an independent production the previous year, Dear Master, that led to the formation of the company). It’s been a while, though. Aurora’s last Shaw play was The Devil’s Disciple in 2008. Widowers’ Houses is the theater’s first revival of a Shaw play that it has produced before, the first time in 1997.

The cast is a phenomenal assemblage of local talent from top to bottom, featuring Warren David Keith (The Christians at San Francisco Playhouse, As You Like It at California Shakespeare Theater), Megan Trout (Aurora’s Metamorphosis and A Bright New Boise, Shotgun’s Eurydice and Grand Concourse), San Francisco Mime Troupe mainstay Michael Gene Sullivan (Cal Shakes’ black odyssey, TheatreWorks’ Around the World in 80 Days), Howard Swain (Aurora’s Body Awareness and The Hysteria, Center REP’s The Liar), Sarah Mitchell (Shotgun Players’ Watson Intelligence and The Norman Conquests), and monologue mastermind Dan Hoyle (Tings Dey Happen, The Real Americans) in a rare non-solo show. Reliably strong Aurora regular Joy Carlin (Dear Master, The How and Why, Talley’s Folly) directs.

Widowers’ Houses plays Jan. 26-Feb. 25, Tue., Wed., Sun. 7 p.m.; Thu., Fri., Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley; $33-$65; 510-843-4822 or AuroraTheatre.org. 

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