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The Epic Theatre Center moves Shaw to Harlem

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Widowers' Houses
By George Bernard Shaw
Adapted by Ron Russell and Godfrey L. Simmons Jr. Kirk Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
212-279-4200

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This updated take on George Bernard Shaw's 19th-century drama announces its hipness right from the get-go. A young man enters the stage and starts listening to rap music on his Walkman while furiously thumbing his Nintendo Game Boy. Set in Harlem during the 1990s, the Epic Theatre Center's staging of Shaw's first play proudly flaunts its unconventionality—but in many ways, it's a staid and somewhat timid production. A wealthy black widower (Peter Jay Fernandez) and his spoiled daughter (an excellent Rachael Holmes) meet a white medical student (James Wallert) while on vacation. The physician and the daughter quickly fall in love, but complications arise when the young man discovers that his future father-in-law is a slumlord. The production competently navigates Shaw's class polemics while leaving the issue of race largely unexplored—a strange oversight since the adapters have clearly revived Widowers' Houses to address that very subject. The cast and crew should have studied the Atlantic Theater Company's recent revival of Harley Granville-Barker's The Voysey Inheritance, a drama that also involves the unmasking of a rich old man. That superlative production proved that you don't need to modernize a period play (especially one about capitalist rot) to make it feel contemporary.

 
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