Shaw on the American Stage


Shaw on the American Stage
   The slow, steady acceptance of the plays of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) on the American stage began in the mid-1890s with his least controversial works: Arms and the Man, produced at the Herald Square Theatre in 1894, and The Devil's Disciple, staged at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1897. Richard Mansfield was the driving force behind these early Shaw productions in the United States, but in the last days of the 19th century, actor-manager Arnold Daly offered a series of Shaw's plays beginning with Candida, which he first presented in Chicago in 1899 (the play had been seen in two amateur productions prior to this one) and later in Philadelphia in 1903, followed by a New York run later that year. Daly also produced other Shavian works, including The Man of Destiny (1904), You Never Can Tell (1905), and John Bull's Other Island (1905). Mainstream audiences were clearly attracted to the vaguely scandalous reputation of Shaw, a socialist and women's rights advocate inspired by the plays of Henrik Ibsen, but when Daly presented Shaw's controversial Mrs. Warren's Profession at the Garrick Theatre in October 1905, he and Mary Shaw, the play's star, were arrested for indecency through the efforts of Anthony Comstock's Society for the Suppression of Vice and a flurry of editorials in newspapers. Despite Comstock's efforts, the play was performed and drew substantial audiences.
   Shaw's plays were not always appreciated in England, as was the case with his Androcles and the Lion, which was hissed at its London premiere, but American audiences were receptive when Harley Granville-Barker staged it in New York in 1915. Grace George produced and starred in the American premiere of Major Barbara that same year and it became one of the most frequently revived Shaw plays in the United States. Other productions of Shaw's works followed, as well as Oscar Strauss's operetta based on Arms and the Man, a popular success called The Chocolate Soldier (1921). Most of Shaw's plays premiered in England with United States productions following, but a few of his works had their initial performances in New York through the auspices of the Theatre Guild, including Heartbreak House at the Garrick Theatre in 1920 and Saint Joan, also at the Garrick, in 1923. All told, the Guild produced American premieres of seven Shavian works, also including Back to Methuselah (1922) and The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1935). By 1930, Shaw's plays were produced frequently on Broadway and, later, became staples of repertory theatres emerging after 1960 across the United States. Shaw's influence on American drama can be seen to a greater or lesser degree in the works of a range of playwrights, including Clyde Fitch, Langdon Mitchell, Edward Sheldon, Eugene O'Neill, Rachel Crothers, Robert E. Sherwood, Philip Barry, and S. N. Behrman, among others, and many American actors made their reputations appearing in Shaw's works.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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