In the final show of its 2016-17 season, Hartford Stage presented Heartbreak House, George Bernard Shaw’s most ambitious play. The play takes place in the early 1900s and follows a family of vibrant characters, all attached to one Captain Shotover, the owner of the titular house in which the play takes place. When the young Ellie Dunn arrives to the home, and the Captain’s estranged daughter Lady Utterword returns for a visit, the antics that ensue among the ladies and their men take the audience on a hilarious emotional roller coaster of a journey.
The Hartford Stage production is directed by Darko Tresnjak, and features a gorgeous set designed by Colin McGurk which is the first thing the audience sees upon entering the theatre. The full set, which is supposed to be the Captain’s home, is shaped like a ship, captain’s wheel and all. The stage is a thrust, with the forward part of the thrust shaped like the bow of the ship. The multi-level design of the set allows for characters on all three levels, creating a dynamic effect when all of the actors are on stage simultaneously. The lighting design includes a cyclorama that can be seen between the pillars in the back of the set. It was lit with a gradient that created the appearance of a sunset, and it darkened and changed as the play progressed and it got later in the day in the world of the play.
Captain Shotover, played by Miles Anderson, is the most likeable character in the play. He is a kind man, although a bit of a drunk, and he just wants the best for his family, as well as Ellie, a virtual stranger. Anderson plays him a bit younger than he’s supposed to be; he claims to be 80 in the script but he seems able and agile, as well as incredibly wise.
Another notable performance is that of Charlotte Parry as Hesione Hushabye. Her character is relatable and likeable, as well as a great contrast to her stage sister Lady Utterwood, played by Tessa Auberjonois. Parry plays Hesione as a complex layered character, who both deeply cares about Ellie and seems indifferent to others such as her husband. She was a joy to watch every time she took the stage, even with her occasional melodramatic air.
Arguably the best part of the show was the blatant reference to Donald Trump portrayed through the character of Boss Mangan, played by Andrew Long. The character sported Trump’s signature blond combover hairstyle, and his infamous pursed lips, making the intention extremely evident from the moment he entered the stage. Throughout the show, Mangan was played as incredibly whiney and entitled, a businessman who is suggested to go into politics. He’s an over the top crybaby, which makes for an incredibly comical effect when dressed as Trump.
This reference a simply genius way of making this dated show relevant. It is often difficult to make people care about a play that takes place over 100 years ago, and I applaud the person who created this genius portrayal of a character who has never been more relevant. The character brought the audience’s attention to the political themes that, while from another era, have a place in society now more than ever.