Review: "Widowers’ Houses" at Aurora Theater Company

Jordan Nickels

Aurora Theatre Company’s presentation of George Bernard Shaw travels back to the beginning of his playwriting career. In Widowers’ Houses, one of Shaw’s first plays, he takes a look at gentrification and ethics in the 1890s, which is scarily similar to our modern politics.

The Widowers’ Houses is a comic satire that examines trickle down capitalism, through the romance of the young doctor Harry Trench, and the hot blooded ingénue Blanche Sartorius. However, their love begins to tarnish when Harry learns Blanche’s fortune comes from her father, Mr. Sartorius, benefiting off a housing scheme that exploits the poor. As Harry dwells further into the matter, the more questions are brought up about his romance and own possible ties in the scandal.

This production exhibits a strong ensemble cast, including Dan Hoyle as the impressionable Harry Trench, Michael Gene Sullivan as Harry’s accomplice Cokane, and Warren David Keith as the stern father Mr. Sartorius. Megan Trout impressed as Blanche Sartorius, balancing rage and immaturity with calculation and cunning. Howard Swain as the bumbling Lickcheese and Sarah Mitchell as multiple servants brought fantastic comedic stylings to Shaw’s work. Kent Dorsey must also be recognized for a beautiful set that brought Shaw’s world to life and Callie Floor for the elaborate period costumes.

As a fan of Shaw’s work, I was impressed with the pacing of this production that also kept intact the wit and political savvy he is known for in his plays. George Bernard Shaw draws an audience in with his writing, and his humor surrounding complex characters, while dropping nuggets of insight and commentary along the way. These ideas and thoughts culminate into a large message about social justice, economics, or politics that threads itself through the plot.

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For a production of Shaw, and its typical three-act structure in our 90-minute one-and-done theater going society, I thought the audience was highly engaged and invested in this version of Widowers’ Houses. Besides the production itself, it was the themes and ideas brought up by Shaw in this play that related so much to our society today. Not so much the politics, but the social structure and economic hardship discussed from the prospective of elite characters.

However, while these characters have different opinions on the housing crisis at hand, the conclusion points towards dealing with the cards you are dealt. We live in a society where there will always be the more and less fortunate, and while some will attempt to take action to help them, others profit off of their misfortune. However, this play is a cautionary tale that pulls the curtain on inequality in our system, warning us about taking the moral hierarchy as you never know where the money leads.   

Shaw is not an easy playwright to decipher, and Aurora Theatre Company was able to make a thoughtful interpretation that entertained while teaching the audience, through societal concepts of another era.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.