Flawed 'Millionairess' Not One of Shaw's Best

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Byline: Jack Helbig

George Bernard Shaw's 1936 play "The Millionairess" will never be listed among this brilliant playwright's best works.

As usual Shaw's characters are fascinating and original. His protagonist is a strong-willed, opinionated woman, and the people who surround her are either equals in wit and strength or hilarious because they are such worms.

But the plot in which Shaw sets them is a little wobbly. Shaw wrote the play, currently being revived at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, to make some points about British society and at several key spots he sacrifices the story to make them. The play leaps around awkwardly, starting in the office of an attorney, moving to a ramshackle country inn, stopping at a sweatshop, before ending up at the ramshackle country inn, now under new management.

Every time Shaw's story begins to get up a good head of steam, he veers off in a new direction. This makes for some surprising moments. The scenes in the sweatshop are particularly strong and pointed. But it also means that one quickly loses the feeling that Shaw had complete control over his material.

Still, for those like me who believe that a half-baked Shaw is better than most playwrights well-done, this revival is a flawed gem. Robert Scoggin's simple direction and pitch-perfect casting brings out the best in Shaw's material.

And Adrianne Cury seems to be having the time of her life, playing a role previously played by no less than Edith Evans, Katherine Hepburn, and, on the screen, Sophia Loren. Cury's enthusiasm is infectious.

I wish all second-rate plays by first-rate playwrights were this good.

- The "Millionairess" runs through March 10 at Next Theatre, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston. For tickets, call (847) 475-1975. This production is G rated, though the material is too sophisticated for most children.

Talking with Claudia Shear: For weeks I have been trying to interview Claudia Shear, author of the fabulous one-woman show "Blown Sideways Through Life." Her latest work, "dirty BLONDE," about Mae West, opened in New York last season and is now on tour. (It opened in Chicago Feb. 26 and runs through March 10.)

These days Shear is an incredibly busy woman, juggling projects, and scraping out a living in one of the most expensive places in the country. When I finally caught up with her, she was waiting to audition for a voice-over job.

"Doyoumind?" she asked, blurting out the question as one word. And then before I could answer she proceeded to tell me about "dirty BLONDE" and her fascination with Mae West.

"She was amazing!" Shear tells me, sounding a little like Fran Drescher in her pronounced New Yawk accent, "I was so inspired by her. I loved her power and confident. She was really in her body. And so were very many men."

I asked her how she became interested in writing a play about Mae West. I knew her mostly as the writer of autobiographical material. …