Playwright and Writer for TV and Radio
MY ASTONISHING SELF. Adapted by Michael Voysey from the writings of George Bernard Shaw. With Donal Donnelly as George Bernard Shaw
At the Irish Repertory Theater, 132 W. 22d St AT THE END OF ‘MY ASTONISHING SELF,’ Michael Voysey’s entertaining monologue based on the writings of George Bernard Shaw, we see Shaw in a TV appearance he made when the medium was in its very infancy, the late ’30s.
Having seen the TV piece, I can assert that Donal Donnelly, the consummate actor who plays Shaw, captures the then-80-plus playwright uncannily. What comes across clearly is that Shaw regarded the viewers as children, which may be why, in his puckishness, in the odd little dance he does for the camera, he seems to be playing the leprechaun. (Since the TV audience at the height of the Depression must have been quite wealthy, the implicit condescension is amusing but, given Shaw’s leftish leanings, characteristic.) In effect, Shaw played the leprechaun often in his career.
He wanted to tweak his smug, unfeeling audience. Hence, Voysey uses an early bit of writing in which Shaw upbraids late Victorian listeners who may have imagined they were good Christians by declaring that “The man Jesus has never been a failure yet, for no man has been sane enough to try His way.
” Voysey stitches together this fascinating 90-minute piece from Shaw’s voluminous essays, his letters to actress Ellen Terry, his comments to his biographer, Frank Harris, and his public utterances. In some ways, the most moving sequence comes when this genius pays tribute to another, Albert Einstein, and then reads Einstein’s letter of gratitude.
The absorbing, illuminating piece is a deft blend of the public Shaw, an iconoclast and gadfly, with the private man, who retained a surprising number of Victorian attitudes well into the 20th century. Because his mind remained gymnastic until the end, it is hard to show Shaw aging. Donally, very subtly, shows Shaw becoming physically more fragile. In the TV piece, he seems downright vulnerable, which, for so indomitable, so icily witty a figure, provides a surprising and deeply moving counterpoint.