By Laurie Dietrich
The "GBS" in Dan Laurence's reader's theatre adaptation GBS in Love is George Bernard Shaw. While the "in Love" part seems debatable, Laurence's GBS credentials are anything but. The career English and drama professor (with stints at New York University, UT, Tulane, Penn State, and Dartmouth) spent 17 years as the literary adviser to the Shaw estate, was the literary adviser to Canada's Shaw Festival until his retirement in 1990, and has authored or edited more than 40 books on Shaw's work.
Laurence also has a lifelong background in professional and community theater performance, making him a natural to step into the role of GBS himself in the Extended Run Players' production of his script, subtitled "A Dramatic Narrative based on the youthful correspondence of Bernard Shaw and his early love, Alice Lockett," at the University of the Incarnate Word's Cheever Downstage II theatre. The production also serves as a classroom of sorts for UIW's Theatre Arts Department's Summer Practicum, an experiment in making practical production experience available to the University's theater arts students during summer session.
SA's well-known "oldest broad in broadcasting," Mary Denman, reads the role of Alice Lockett, a nursing student presumably in her late 'teens in 1881, when this correspondence begins. One of the joys of the reader's theater format, as employed by the Extended Run Players, is that there is no need to cast for type, allowing these seasoned veterans to bring their experience and insight to significantly younger characters. Although it must be said that, if these letters are any indication, the young GBS was just as irascible as his elder version famously was, and his letters illustrate the similarity between "pretentious young man" and "crusty old coot."
Like many young artists with pretensions, he had little grounds for his grandiosity in 1881 when, at 25, he was living with his mother who supported them both by giving singing lessons. Alice was one of his mother's students, and their correspondence and curious love affair continued until late 1886.
Aside from the reminder of a time when verbal courtship was an art form (markedly different from today's "IMO U Rock!" e-mails), GBS in Love is perhaps most significant for its prefiguring of the relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, as expressed in Shaw's mythology-based satire Pygmalion (1916), from which My Fair Lady was adapted. Although they dismissed their importance to each other in later life, as the "student" who surpasses and humbles her arrogant tutor, Alice Lockett is almost certainly the original cockney flower girl. •