, Salem, MA


April 4, 2013

To hell and back with George Bernard Shaw


“It took months,” he said. “He has innate rhythms, profound and elegant ideas. But I knew, in order for the audience to understand all of his ideas and get his eloquence, I can’t overwhelm them. So I had to make some edits.”

Keeping the third act also kept the play in line with the theme of reflection, which the Salem theater department has addressed in each of this season’s plays.

“We’re trying to do shows that force us to reflect on our world a little bit,” Cunningham said. “I’m not sure people are taking time to reflect in this day and age.

“So much entertainment today is mindless, numbing,” he said. “I don’t want theater to be dumb. We’re not the movies. We’re an art form that’s supposed to engage people at all levels. Shaw goes for my brain, he makes me actively use my brain.”

Drawing its title, and its approach to moral problems, from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, “Man and Superman” has no shortage of big ideas.

And if Shaw’s witty, elegant dialogue strikes modern audiences as “talky,” Cunningham feels it has merits that he wants to restore.

“There were some things they were doing then that I wish we were doing now,” he said. “I wish people comported themselves with dignity. This happens with style.”

Audiences can be entertained by stylish dialogue if they are made to feel part of the discussion, which is what Cunningham directed his cast of theater majors to do.

“There are lines you throw directly at the audience because it’s a big thought,” he said. “The audience is another cast member for you. You want to engage them with that thought so they can bring it back to the play. There are not a lot of playwrights that will engage you at that level.”

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