Moral didacticism, usually of a political bent, is the curse of the contemporary theater and has been for some twenty years. In the hands of a less than subtle director or writer, the audience member’s experience is too often that of being lectured to, even pummeled, for his own racism, sexism, hawkishness, or bourgeois values. It’s too bad we don’t have anyone around now like George Bernard Shaw, who managed to make playgoers scream with laughter while he insulted and humiliated them. But we do have a new production of Shaw’s Heartbreak House, courtesy of the Roundabout Theater Company and directed by Robin Lefevre.

Heartbreak House (1919) was politically motivated like all of Shaw’s plays: It served, in the guise of a Chekhovian country-house drama, as an allegory for the liberal English intelligentsia before World War I and an attempt to explain their failure to help...


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