George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” at the Hilberry Theatre

The Hilberry Theatre Presents Topical, Timely Major Barbara

DETROIT – The Hilberry Theatre closes its 49th season with George Bernard Shaw’s classic satire, Major Barbara, opening Friday, April 6, 2012. University of Michigan-Flint theatre professor Carolyn Gillespie directs this sparkling comedy, which runs in rotating repertory at the Hilberry with Summer and Smoke until May 5, 2012. Tickets are $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online at Hilberry.com, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

Danielle Cochrane as Barbara, Edmund Alyn Jones as Undeshaft, Brent Griffith as Cusins

In this timely comedy, a millionaire armaments dealer loves money, but his inspired daughter, Barbara, is a devout Major in the Salvation Army who sees her father as just another soul to save. Yet when the Salvation Army needs funds, the father triumphantly saves the day.   George Bernard Shaw’s satirical comedy proves as relevant as ever amidst the current political conversations playing out between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and the remaining 99% across the country.

This will be Carolyn Gillespie’s second time directing Barbara, a play that she has come to “love every line and every character.” Gillespie has received several awards including two Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Gold Medallions for Service in Education. Gillespie has twice chaired the Department of Theatre and Dance at UM Flint. A member of Actors’ Equity Association, Gillespie holds a B.A. in Speech Education from Marquette University in Milwaukee, and an M.F.A. in Acting from Stanford.

Gillespie considers the play as relevant today as it was when it premiered a century ago. “We have not yet – or perhaps never will – solved the problem of poverty or the complexities of the relationships between politics, industry, economics, and the military – what has been called the ‘military-industrial complex’ in some eras.  On another level, the play challenges us to find a third option for seemingly irresolvable conflicts.” The play poses a hard question: how can society find the balance between the mission of the Salvation Army and the “utopia” built on the munitions factory? Shaw does not, however, attempt to answer that question within the play.

Danielle Cochrane as Barbara and Brent Griffith as Cusins

In a letter to Henry James dated January 17, 1909, Shaw wrote: “I, as a Socialist, have had to preach, as much as anyone, the enormous power of the environment. We can change it; we must change it; there is absolutely no other sense in life than the task of changing it. What is the use of writing plays, what is the use of writing anything, if there is not a will which finally moulds chaos itself into a race of gods.”

“Shaw, like Brecht after him,” says Gillespie, “asks us to envision change and political action in the face of unacceptable social constructions.  There is something terribly wrong in [the character] Undershaft’s vision of the world, but we are not enlightened enough – or courageous enough – to find it. That’s what I want the audience to walk away thinking about.”

Major Barbara first opened on Broadway at the Playhouse Theatre on December 9, 1915, ten years after it premiered in London at the Royal Court Theatre. There have been four Broadway revivals, in 1928 at the Guild Theatre; 1956 at the Martin Beck Theatre (and then the Morosco Theatre) starring Glynis Johns, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Eli Wallach, Burgess Meredith, and Charles Laughton, who also directed; in 1980 at the Circle in the Square Theatre; and 2001 at the American Airlines Theatre, with Cherry Jones in the title role.

Cast includes: Alec Barbour (Charles Lomax), Christopher Call (Bilton), Danielle Cochrane (Barbara), Megan Dobbertin (Jenny), Christopher Ellis (Morrison), Brent Griffith (Adolphus Cusins), Sara Hymes (Sarah), Edmund Alyn Jones (Undershaft), Andrew Papa (Bill Walker), Topher Payne (Stephen), Joshua Blake Rippy (Snobby Price), Vanessa Sawson (Lady Britomart/ Rummy Mitchens), David Sterritt (Peter Shirley), and Lorelei Sturm (Mrs. Baines).

Production Team includes: Carolyn Gillespie (Director), Dana Gamarra (Stage Manager), Rudolph C. Schuepbach (Scenic Designer), Jessica Van Essen (Costume Designer), Brian Scruggs (Lighting Designer), and Alexandra Stewart (Publicity Manager).

About the Hilberry Theatre Company

The Hilberry Theatre Company is the nation’s only professional theatre company that is both staffed by graduate students and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, forty or more graduate students receive fellowships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees from Wayne State University. The company performs an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students. In its 49-year history, four Hilberry productions have been selected to appear at the American College Theatre Festival.

Tickets are $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972 or online at http://www.hilberry.com. The box office is open Tuesday through Saturday from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., with extended hours to 8 p.m. on performance evenings (Thursday-Saturday). Group discounts and corporate packages are also available. For more information, please call (313) 577-2972 or visit the Wayne State University Theatre Box Office at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Hancock in Detroit. Performance information and tickets may also be obtained by visiting the theatre’s website at http://www.hilberry.com.

The 2011-2012 Hilberry season is sponsored by CBS Outdoor, Between the Lines and Encore Michigan.

Photo credit:  Alexandra Stewart

Calendar Information:

April 6 – May 5, 2012

Wednesday 2 p.m.      April 11 (Postshow Talkback)
Thursday 8 p.m.          April 12 (Preshow Discussion [begins at 7:15pm]), 26, May 3
Friday 8 p.m.               April 6 (Opening Night), 13, 27, May 4
Saturday 2 p.m.           April 28, May 5
Saturday 8 p.m.           April 7, 14, 28, May 5

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