At one time considered unconventional, even controversial, George Bernard Shaw's plays may not carry quite the same punch they did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But Shaw's works, which invariably feature eccentric characters engaged in animated sociopolitical scheming and debate, are nevertheless still a great source of lively satire. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher certainly recognizes this as he capitalizes on Shaw's humor in this adaptation of Shaw's 1884 novel, An Unsocial Socialist. Featuring Shaw's requisite convoluted storyline and furthered by various passionate, cantankerous, and dimwitted characters, this adaptation is a faithful interpretation of Shaw's book, which follows the implausible cause of millionaire socialist Sidney Trefusis, who seeks to bring revolution to Britain by stirring social upheaval at a ladies finishing college.
Likewise faithful to Shaw's highly stylized brand of comedy, this production presents an amusing depiction of Trefusis' absurd adventures. The primary assets here are the solid comic performances turned in by most of the ensemble. Despite intermittent hang-ups caused by director Russell St. Clair's often restrained pace and the uneven portrayals of a few players, the largely energetic cast exhibits enough zeal to enjoyably carry the audience through this lengthy but fun romp.
Anchoring the production as the show's oddball protagonist, Michael Carr is alternately callous and charming as staunch socialist Sidney, who begins the first phase of his revolution by leaving his wife, Henrietta (Nicole Ann Mohr), on their wedding day. Carr's versatility serves him well, as his role strays from melodrama to outright farce and back again. He is at his comic best when Trefusis launches Phase Two at Alton College, where he disguises himself as a groundskeeper and slyly attempts to inspire the female students with his socialist dogma. Trefusis quickly finds a willing recruit in nonconformist Agatha Wylie (Amanda Karr), the school's resident black sheep. Karr's ebullient feistiness turns Wylie into a formidable heroine. Her scrappiness is balanced by Mohr's coolness, which suits Henrietta's more sophisticated nature. Mohr's levelheaded performance also sparks laughter as she discovers her runaway spouse's plot and seeks to roust him with a capitalist scheme of her own.
Rounding out the more stimulating roles are Gary Page as a lovelorn college professor, Cort Huckabone as a likeably fatuous local aristocrat, and Marci Danner and Leanna René Rodgers as Agatha's winsomely obtuse classmates. The other supporting roles, however, are partially hampered by uneven deliveries and St. Clair's occasionally subdued direction, which puts a damper on Shaw's more exuberantly comedic scenes. But the overall strength of the cast overrides these flaws. In the end this production offers a spirited take on Shaw's political comedy, which parodies Sidney's foolish plot and yet applauds him for his dedicated ambition.
"Smash," presented by and at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Jan. 25-Mar. 2. Sun. 2 p.m. Feb. 24. $15. (562) 494-1014.