The Admirable Crichton | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

click to enlarge The tale of our castaways: (from left) Gail Hofbauer, Sarah Murtha and Maria Reilsono in The Summer Company's The Admirable Crichton. - PHOTO BY FRANCIS P. KOWNACKI
Photo by Francis P. Kownacki
The tale of our castaways: (from left) Gail Hofbauer, Sarah Murtha and Maria Reilsono in The Summer Company's The Admirable Crichton.
One hundred and five years on, it's a little difficult to imagine the "shock" of J. M. Barrie's 1902 play The Admirable Crichton. We open in the home of Lord Loam and meet his generally useless family and the hard-working staff propping them up. Loam has some fairly wacky ideas about equality between the classes, which pains the butler Crichton, who believes that "nature" will out, and that in any society a master will emerge to govern his underlings. (It's 1902, so of course it would be "his.")

Crichton welcomes the chance to play his part, but everything is turned on its head when family and staff go on a tropical cruise and end up shipwrecked. Now the ever-resourceful Crichton becomes master, the useless family reduced to serving the "Guv." Nature, to Crichton's way of thinking, has asserted itself and made him master because of his innate survival skills.

Two years later the gang is rescued. Back in Loam's London home, everything returns to the way it was ... with some surprisingly moving fall-out.

It must have been quite an experience for Victorian audiences to see their secret fears realized on stage -- namely, that the servants were infinitely more successful as people than they were.

But Crichton was a huge hit because, really, Barrie was reassuring them. The message of Crichton is that some people are just naturally born to serve, so the rich needn't feel guilty. (Although I do wonder if tropical cruises among the moneyed elite fell out of fashion once this play opened.)

Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, was a wildly popular dramatist in his time, and Crichton makes very clear why: He writes with humor and flair, and it's interesting to watch him wrestle with the play's philosophy. Of course, the script is from a whole 'nother time, so be aware that you are in for four acts. (As he entered the lobby after Act III at the play's New York premiere, Walter Winchell famously remarked: "Well, for Crichton out loud!")

The Summer Company's production features strong performances by Jay Keenan and Christopher Galgon as Loam and Crichton, sweet performances by Sarah Murtha and Laurie Bolewitz, and a fine job by Gail Hofauer as one of the useless sisters.

The Admirable Crichton continues through Sat., June 23. Peter Mills Auditorium, Duquesne University, Uptown. 412-396-4997.

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