The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Search Curtainup








NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Major Barbara

What price salvation now, eh?— Bill Walker
Major Barbara
Dan Daily (Photo: Richard Termine)
In a way plays are strange things, amalgams of a permanent written text and a transient live performance, mixtures of authorial intent, directorial input and actor interpretation. Thus our individual experiences of them vary widely, depending on the unique circumstances of how they are brought to live on a given stage by a particular company. But occasionally you get a play which is so good, written by such a towering genius, that as long as the company understands the nature of what it's got and can get out of the way, the result is exceptional.

I'm happy to report that's what we have with the Gingold Theatrical Group and the Pearl Theatre Company's latest production of one of George Bernard Shaw's most popular plays, Major Barbara: great play, towering genius, and a thoroughly professional cast and crew. The result is a tremendous production.

The product of a new adaptation by director David Staller, drawing upon Shaw's nine drafts of the 1905 play, 1941 film screenplay and notes and letters, Major Barbara emphasizes the difficulty of finding one's moral compass in a complicated and uncertain world. Andrew Undershaft (Dan Daily), a highly successful weapons manufacturer, has been kept away from his children for most of their lives, but as the play begins he is invited back to meet the family-in part so his wife, the formidable Lady Britomart Undershaft (Carol Schultz), can secure more money from him for her children's marriages. Each one has his or her eccentricities, but the strongest of all Undershaft's offspring is his daughter Barbara (Hannah Cabell), a major in the Salvation Army. Her belief in salvation (and strength in pursuing it) seems unshakeable, and so her father suggests a sort of wager: he will visit her shelter, while she will visit his weapons factory, and they will determine who should be most influenced by the other.

It all sets up as a clear moral debate, but predictably, Shaw is deeply suspicious of easy answers. Undershaft is an unrepentant war profiteer, unwilling to accept even polite attempts to excuse his profession, but his passion against the "sin" of poverty-and his obvious care for his daughter-makes it difficult to condemn him entirely. Barbara, on the other hand, is in some ways the most insufferable and rigid type of moralizer, but her courage and cleverness are deeply admirable…and, in a very real way, her position on the immorality of war is compelling no matter one's religious convictions. In fact nearly all of the characters in the play are sympathetic in some way, largely because Shaw's sympathy for them is so apparent in every line even as he condemns their provincialism and small-mindedness. And his indictment of the military-industrial complex and religious opposition to it-while often being funded by the same-is both funny and devastating.

In a way the Pearl is a perfect company for a play like this. Its experience, professionalism and continued emphasis on faithfulness to the playwright's intentions is unmatched, and thus Shaw is in good hands from the start. The cast is uniformly excellent: in particular Daily, whose nuanced interpretation of a person it would be easy to condemn is extremely impressive, and especially Cabell, whose rendering of Barbara as a strong, sometimes frustrating but always compelling figure with surprising moments of warmth and tenderness is absolutely superb. Staller, whose adaptation of the script is comprehensive and tightly managed, maintains the perfect balance of moving the action along briskly without rushing past Shaw's incredible insights into the British (and human) condition.

It's difficult but not impossible to foul up one of Shaw's plays: misread it as a Restoration-style comedy of manners and you'll end up with a snoozefest to beat the band. But let Shaw's wit sparkle, and give his characters to actors who understand how to inhabit a role with grace, humor and compassion, and you'll get a work of great depth and power. It's a pleasure to see the Pearl still hasn't forgotten these facts in its production of Major Barbara, and an even greater pleasure to see one of the better revivals of the year. I recommend it without reservation.

The Pearl Theatre, 555 West 42nd St., (212) 563-9261
From 11/4/14 to 12/14/14, opening 11/16/14
Tuesday @ 7 p.m., Wednesday @ 2 p.m., Thursday-Saturday @ Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw
Director: David Staller
Cast: Becky Baumwoll (Sarah Undershaft / Jenny Hill), Robin Leslie Brown (Lady Britomart's maid / Rummy Mitchens / Andrew Undershaft's assistant), Hannah Cabell (Barbara Undershaft), Bradford Cover (Morrison / Peter Shirley / Bilton), Dan Daily (Andrew Undershaft), Cary Donaldson (Charles Lomax / Bill Walker), Richard Gallagher (Adolphus Cusins), Carol Schultz (Lady Britomart Undershaft / Mrs. Baines), Alec Shaw (Stephen Undershaft / Snobby Price)
Scenic Designer: James Noone
Costume Designer: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Designer: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Designer: M. Florian Staab
Running time: Two and a half hours with a fifteen minute intermission
Tuesday, 7PM; Wednesday, 2PM; Thursday - Friday, 8PM;Saturday, 2PM & 8PM; Sunday, 2PM.
Tickets: $65, $39 seniors, $20 students
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on November 11th preview performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Major Barbara
  • I disagree with the review of Major Barbara
  • The review made me eager to see Major Barbara
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from