Barbara is a major in the Salvation Army - but shes also the daughter of Andrew Undershaft, a man whos made millions from the sale of weapons of war. The real battle, however, rages between between the devilish father and his idealistic daughter as they answer the question: does salvation come through faith or finance? This sparkling comedy traverses family relations, religion, ethics and politics - as only Shaw, the master dramatist, can!
A L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: J.B. Blanc, Kate Burton, Matthew Gaydos, Brian George, Hamish Linklater, Henri Lubatti, Kirsten Potter, Roger Rees, Russell Soder, Amelia White, Missy Yager, Sarah Zimmerman
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9 of 9 found the following review helpful:
Poverty's a crime Apr 28, 2004
So says Andrew Undershaft, the extremely wealthy owner of a tremendously successful English armaments business, in George Bernard Shaw's play "Major Barbara." Undershaft, whose self-proclaimed religion is his wealth and his industry, inherited the business from a long line of Andrew Undershafts, each of whom was a foundling adopted by the corresponding previous Andrew Undershaft. This is not to say that the Undershafts don't marry and have families -- the current Andrew Undershaft has married the aristocratic Lady Britomart and has three children by her; he just doesn't let them have anything to do with the family business, preferring to stick to the tradition of bringing in an outsider to perpetuate the Andrew Undershaft dynasty.
Indeed, Undershaft feels that poverty is the primordial crime from which all other crimes -- burglary, murder -- spring, and that it is better to give a poor man a job so he can afford to live rather than spend public money on methods of punishing him should he violate the law in his efforts to afford to live. Undershaft moralizes when he speaks, but in actuality he scoffs at what he considers ordinary Christian morals of the kind professed by his daughter Barbara, who has joined the Salvation Army in her fervid desire to help the poor and has attained the rank of major. She works at a shelter doling out bread and milk to the downtrodden and trying to find work for the unemployed, but her real goal is to bring them to "salvation" by raising them to a higher state of spirituality. When her fiance, a scholar of Greek named Adolphus Cusins, who by a certain twist of logic happens to be his own cousin, reveals himself to be a foundling, Undershaft decides he's found his heir.
Although the play reflects the perspectives that Shaw, as a Socialist, had on the effects of poverty on morality and society, he doesn't seem to take sides with his characters and instead lets them be funny within the context of their respective social classes. His idle rich characters are lovably comical, like the mentally vapid trio of Undershaft's son Stephen (who wouldn't know what to do with his father's armaments business even if he were qualified to inherit it), daughter Sarah, and her fiance Charles Lomax. His impoverished characters -- those who come to the Salvation Army shelter for handouts -- can be honorably industrious like Peter Shirley or pugnacious and troublesome like Bill Walker. If Undershaft, for all his willingness to feed his fortune by manufacturing items that shed the blood of millions, represents the right way to fix poverty and Barbara the wrong way, why is the play named after her? I think it's possibly because her morality is one with which most theatergoers of the day could identify, while Undershaft's is idiosyncratic to say the least.
4 of 4 found the following review helpful:
comedic masterpiece Aug 28, 2001
By W. K. Miller
The playwright uncovers the debate about war and pacifism. Shaw also illuminates the poverty industry, and shows that all money is tainted. The play is a vehicle for a debate on philosophies, the burning issues of the day. Shaw shows that the audience can laugh and think, in the same play. Probably Britain's best known playwright, after Shakespeare, Shaw shines in Major Barbara
2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
As usual, Shaw's comedy is excellent Jan 27, 2011
By Israel Drazin
Shaw mocks religion in this three act comedy, ridicules politicians and the press, demeans England, as usual, and points out that it is not politicians who rule England, but as the American President Eisenhower later said, the military-industrial complex. The play focuses on an atypical family. Lady Britomart has a son and two daughters, one of whom, Barbara, is dedicated to religion and is a major in the Salvation Army. Britamart's husband, from whom she has been separated for over a decade, but who supports her liberally, makes millions selling armaments to warring parties.
Her husband is a foundling. He does not know his parents. He is one of many generations of men who have run his factories. Each owner must be a male foundling. Her husband therefore wants the same for his successor and refuses to have his son or daughters succeed him. His wife describes him as a very moral man who practices immorality. Like George Bernard Shaw, he believes that each person has his or her own sense of morality and should not be governed by the moral values of others. In stark contrast, Barbara believes that all people are sinners.
Shaw portrays the hypocrisy he sees in the Salvation Army. For example, while being vehemently against the ingestion of alcohol and against war, they take money from brewers and arms dealers. Barbara sees this and quits the group. Shaw also compares the sordid English society and the well-run factory town of the husband.
His wife invites him to her home with the intention of persuading him to increase the support payments that he is making. Their two daughters want to marry and their potential husbands are poor.
2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
Top-Notch Shaw Comedy Apr 08, 2010
By Bill R. Moore
Major Barbara is one of George Bernard Shaw's greatest comedies, perhaps one of his greatest plays of all - essential for fans and a great introduction to his work. The play epitomizes what made Shaw both great and popular - the ability to convey serious, even revolutionary, ideas in palatable form. It is a tribute to Shaw's artistry that, no matter how didactic, he always managed to entertain; in notable contrast to most sociopolitical writers, his messages never overwhelm his stories. Major can thus be enjoyed on a very basic level as a superb comedy. Shaw's comic invention seemed endless; the play is frequently amusing, often even laugh aloud funny. Lady Britomart is one of the all-time great comic characters, and Undershaft is also a great creation. However, as always with Shaw, there is far more here than just comedy. Major darkness creeps in, particularly in the character of Bill Walker; one of the sorrier specimens to ever pollute a stage, he vividly shows humanity's basest side. More importantly, Shaw gives us a wealth of things to think about; his usual critiques of capitalism and religion are here, and he zeroes in specifically on the ethics of business and war. Even more incisive is his stark examination of poverty and what to do about it; he explores the complex charity issue via the Salvation Army. He also touches on feminist issues, particularly how difficult it was for women to obtain financial support a century ago. Also of note is Shaw's Preface; an edition with it is essential. Comparable in length to the play itself, it covers everything from literary criticism - in regard to Major and in general - to philosophical issues raised in the play. It examines these last in considerable depth; Shaw not only details the problems, but unlike so many others, also offers solutions. Many were almost unbelievably radical, and some still are. We may disagree, perhaps even quite strongly, but Shaw makes us think about important issues - which is what matters. Much the same can be said of the play itself, which is excellent here as in all other respects.
1 of 1 found the following review helpful:
Good play but horrendous typesetting Jan 22, 2008
By Fine Chocolate
The Penguin Classics '01 paperback edition is laden with typographic errors. The spacing between individual letters is inconsistent on numerous occasions, which can be rather jarring to the eyes when "it" becomes "i t" whereas the rest of the line is densely packed. The typesetter even got the most brilliant idea by turning "flourish" into "∫'tourish". Although I enjoyed reading the play, my experience was marred by these misprints.
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