Tuesday 19 June 2012

A Man and Some Women

Although the above is not a George Bernard Shaw play (it’s by Githa Sowerby), my mom recently saw it performed at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. She has obligingly given me a full report, but this is second-hand Dick for me (I suppose making it third-hand Dick for you all).

Anyway the man from A Man and Some Women is named Richard Shannon, which is why he gets a spot on this illustrious blog. The play was originally written in 1913 and first produced in Manchester, UK in October 1914. Unfortunately, World War I had already broken out, limiting the play’s run. It fell into obscurity and was not produced again until 1996. This is a shame because it’s a fascinating look at how gender constraints on women oppress, define, and limit both men and women.

The play begins with Richard supporting his wife Hilda and his two unmarried sisters, Rose and Elizabeth. Unbeknownst to the sisters, their recently-deceased mother mismanaged the family’s money, essentially leaving them without an inheritance. Richard thus has to support all three of these women on his salary. It’s because Richard has so many dependents that he gave up his job as a scientist (which he loved) and become a businessman. This leaves Richard overworked and unfulfilled, while his women keep house (aka “do nothing”).

A former professor of Richard’s gets in contact with him, offering him a scientific job in Brazil. Richard longs to take the job, but he feels he cannot because he would not make enough money to adequately support his women. But after his sister Rose precipitates a family crisis, Richard decides the jig is up. He tells his women that he has been supporting them on his relatively meager salary, and that he simply cannot do it anymore. They need to get jobs.

Richard even breaks it off with his wife, whom he accuses of only wanting him for his money (and thereby being little different from a mistress who uses a man and then ditches him when the money runs out – an experience Richard had in his youth). Richard gives Hilda some money and they separate. Richard attempts to start a relationship with Jessica, his educated, self-reliant cousin whom he loves (and who loves him in return), but Jessica says she does not want to leech off him the way the other three women have. In the end, Richard goes to Brazil for a year to participate in the scientific expedition; once he returns, who knows what the future will hold?

According to my mom and her theatre-going companions, sister Rose is a major bitch. She is incredibly self-centered and self-righteous, which is a dangerous combination when one is essentially a parasite on society. Wife Hilda is little better, constantly resenting Richard’s sisters for taking money she believes to be hers. Sister Elizabeth is pretty cool and laments her lack of useful skills. Cousin Jessica represents a turn-of-the-century “New Woman,” an educated and self-supporting woman. Together, these women represent the old Victorian order and the new way.

Seems like I’m going to have to read this one!

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