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John Kinzer
IU Department of Theatre and Drama

Last modified: Thursday, February 11, 2010

IU Theatre presents a fresh spin on George Bernard Shaw's comedy 'Major Barbara'

WHAT: Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw under the direction of Sabrina Lloyd.
WHAT: Opens Feb. 26 (Friday), at 7:30 p.m. with shows Feb. 27, March 2-6, at 7:30 p.m. and a special matinee March 6, at 2 p.m.
WHERE: All performances take place at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. No photography or recording of any kind is permitted during performances.
TICKETS: Regular admission is $20.00, $15.00 for students and senior citizens; Student Rush Tickets: $12 cash with a valid IU Bloomington student ID on the day of each performance. Ask the box office about buying tickets in advance at student rush price with flex vouchers.

February 11, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's Department of Theatre and Drama continues the second half of its 2009/2010 season with a sassy new take on George Bernard Shaw's classic Major Barbara under the direction of third-year MFA student Sabrina Lloyd.

Major Barbara

When her mission-focused Salvation Army branch eagerly accepts much-needed donations from a whisky distiller and her father's armaments company, Major Barbara Undershaft is confronted with a dilemma. The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty. But how far must a person go to end it? Barbara visits her father's armaments factory and is forced to ask: who really needs saving?

Lloyd has transported this turn-of-the-century classic to the sleek, sophisticated and sexy year -- 1964.

Both ages are marked by social and political change -- women's movements, civil rights battles, arms races, labor movements and tension between adults and youth -- all of which are central to Shaw's worldview. Lloyd believes audiences will relate to this story because these issues are still relevant today.

"Every time I read Shaw I get a feel for the 1960's," Lloyd said. "Not only is the era hot, hot, hot, but there is a consistency of thought between the two periods. It's a cycle that happens over and over again: we all become our parents."

Lloyd said audiences will be surprised that this play was written at the dawn of the 20th century. "This is no dusty behemoth; it has relevance, strikingly and shockingly so, on our lives now."

A focus of Lloyd's approach is Shaw's portrayal of women in the play. Major Barbara, as an officer in the Salvation Army, has greater independence than many turn-of-the-century women. Lloyd appreciates Shaw and this play because it "pushed social boundaries and asked what a woman could be if she had equal standing and power as a man."

Lloyd feels she can bring an even stronger point of view to the already piquant drama. "I don't feel bound to imitate a man's idea of a woman. We aren't propagating male myths about what women are," she said.

At the heart of the play -- and what gets to her -- said Lloyd, is the story about a broken family. Barbara must choose between her Salvation Army goals and saving her own family. "It's about why it's so hard for one of us to become a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King Jr. It reminds us to appreciate the people who are able to rise up and help us take steps to make the world a better place."

This challenging piece is sewn together with the wit and sharp humor characteristic of Shaw's socially apt dramas. Major Barbara is continually revived more than 100 years after its first performance because as Lloyd says, "He never lets you off the hook."

The talented cast is a mix of several fresh and familiar faces, featuring both graduate and undergraduate students. The cast includes sophomore Hannah Kennedy, a Herman B Wells Scholar, in the title role of Barbara Undershaft; senior Justin Harner, a William E. Kinzer scholar, as her father, Andrew Undershaft; second-year MFA Sarah Fischer as her mother, Lady Britomart Undrshaft, second-year MFA acting student Shewan Howard as Adolphus Cusins, and first-year MFA acting student Kristl Densley as Mrs. Baines.

Helping bring the 1960s to life, the design team consists of third-year MFA designers Lydia Dawson (costume designer) and Hyunsuk Shin (scenic designer), second year MFA Chris Wood (lighting designer), and third-year Ph.D. student Thomas Oldham (sound design).