Two thoughts from George Bernard Shaw’s “Preface” to Geneva (upon which John Murrell’s play, Peace in Our Time: A Comedy, is based) stand out:
“For nothing yet discovered has cured mankind of lying and boasting.”
“…fought man to man, to artillery operations and air raids in which the combatants are hundreds of miles apart on the ground or thousands of feet up in the air dropping bombs and flying away at a speed of ten miles per second, never seeing one another nor the mischief they do.” [Just imagine what the sage playwright would have to say about the use of drones today!]
In 1945, these comments and dozens more set the table for the biting satire to come. Rather like Anthony Burgess’ Mozart and the Wolf Gang where the author of A Clockwork Orange imagines, in part, conversations amongst composers—notably Beethoven, Wagner and Prokofiev—Shaw/Murrell bring together Hitler, Franco and Mussolini for interrogation at the Hague under the auspices of the United Nations.
Shaw chose to thinly veil the three dictators (Bardo Bombardone, Ernest Battler, General Flanco de Fortinbras—the names saying much about their personas) while Murrell opts to call a spade a spade: Il Duce, Der Führer, El Generalísimo.
In Murrell’s characterization and director Blair Williams’ staging, the trio of murderous butchers become The Three Stooges: Ric Reid (Hitler) artfully manages the near pratfalls, Neil Barclay (Mussolini) plays his part in a decidedly broad—literally and figuratively—manner, reincarnating Curly while Lorne Kennedy (Franco) is a convincing Larry, being the butt of some gags or setting up others.
Sadly, the laughs that do erupt more often tickle the silly bone than heap fuel on the pillory pile of plenty.
The earlier acts are equally uneven with baldly American Belle Browning (Dianna Donnelly) threatening to burst into song (“Ohio” from Wonderful Town—cross-reference below) or too-tired-by-half moments of Canadiana from the inserted, token Canuck, Darcy Middleman—doing everything asked was Andrew Bunker.
The conveniently trumped up annihilation of the world by a runaway icecap collapses into giggles as Hitler fears for his dog, but given the slapstick buildup, the payoff found in the original failed to materialize (those keen on the subject of sudden doom are directed to Melancholia—cross-reference below).
Employing “Onward! Song of World Freedom,” as the primary music backdrop succinctly sums up the trouble with this “comedy.” More than a bit of the melody can be traced back to the first movement of Beethoven’s only violin concerto: something sublime has been refashioned into a pale copy that can’t hold a candle to the original. JWR