Review: ‘Back to Methuselah Part 3: As Far as Thought Can Reach’ at Washington Stage Guild

George Bernard Shaw loves words. Even his stage directions are wordy.

He also loved ideas, philosophy, aesthetics, politics…

The Cast of Back to Methuselah Part 3. Photo by C Stanley Photograph.

In Back to Methuselah Part 3: As Far as Thought Can Reach, Shaw reaches that love’s zenith.

The words roll, the ideas thunder, the philosophy rains, the aesthetics flood, the politics drown.

And with it, The Washington Stage Guild completes a mission: to present Shaw’s five-play series Back to Methuselah (A Metabiological Pentateuch) [and I think that the parenthetical expression about sums it up].

Be prepared to listen.

Set on a summer afternoon in 31,920 AD, in a sunlit glade at the southern foot of a thickly wooded hill, the human race has evolved out of itself, or so it seems.

Human beings no longer spend 9 months in the womb, or 18 years in adolescence, before officially becoming adults. Now, they spend a bit less than 2 years in an egg and are hatched into bourgeois adulthood. Yes, in Shaw’s future world, all young adults are elite artists with too much time on their hands.

So they engage in sculpting, music, a little dancing, talking–I would say “lots of eating and fornicating” but unfortunately these ultramodern creatures no longer have the equipment to do that.

I guess they snuggle and spoon and kiss and play, but I have no evidence of that either.

The young Methuselahites (my term) are led by Brit Herring as Strephon, the two-year-old sculptor who loves, unbeknownst to him, a 4-year-old former artist named Chloe (Lynn Steinmetz).

In Shaw’s concocted world, adulthood lasts for 4 years. Chloe has finished her “maturation”, so now she no longer finds the body or nature beautiful, art or society interesting.

A 319th-century breakup is about to occur.

Strephon has sensed something was wrong: he’s spent the last few weeks flirting with a 9-month-old, Ecrasia, the flutist (Malinda Kathleen Reese).

But no worries: Strephon’s 3 and 1/2-year-old friend Acis (Michael Avolio) tells him: an egg is about to hatch and a young woman is about to be born. She can be his new love.

Unfortunately, after she (Madeleine Farrington) comes out of the egg, Strephon admits his recent lack of interest in youth.

The last of these Young’uns (my term) is Pygmalion (Frank Britton), but he’s no artist. He’s a scientist. And he’s invented two early humans (Conrad Feininger and Lynn Steinmetz).

In contrast to the Young’uns are the Ancients, represented by He-Ancient and She-Ancient, Vincent Clark and Laura Giannarelli.

They are the Ancients’ designated contacts with the Young’uns. They do their best to keep up with the language and to tolerate the arrogant naïveté of the playful class.

As you can tell, Shaw’s Back to Methuselah Part 3 is an alternative universe separate and distinct from anything we humans now know.

Director Bill Largess and his design team (Sets, Shirong Gu; Costumes, Stacey Thomann Hamilton; Lighting, Marianne Meadows; Sound, Frank DiSalvo, Jr.) had an initial choice to make. The production could create the behaviors of these futuristic people whose very bodies have become like Barbie and Ken dolls, or it could present Shaw’s words and let the audience imagine afterward how they might actually spend their time together.

Largess chose the latter. And the ensemble of actors does an excellent job delivering those words articulately.

To be sure, Shaw’s words are grand, and the issues he raises, particularly about the role of art in society, are provocative.

Might the billions of dollar spent on art and culture in this country be simply an extension of the adolescent mind’s desire to play with dolls: from Barbie and G.I. Joe to actors and dancers and musicians…?

For a heady play done headily, go see the Washington Stage Guild’s Back to Methuselah Part 3: As Far as Thought Can Reach.

Running Time: one hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Back to Methuselah Part 3: As Far as Thought Can Reach plays through April 16, 2017, at the Washington Stage Guild performing at the Undercroft Theatre of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 582-0050, or purchase them online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


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