Chesterton, Shaw and Belloc Wrangle Again
Don’t you wish you could have been on hand when G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw traded verbal fisticuffs? Well you can, sort of, if you’re in the D.C. area next Sunday, June 14. On that day, Washington Stage Guild, a theatre company that has often focused on Shaw, is reenacting a 1928 debate between the inimitable Fabian and the author of the Father Brown series. The event was one of a series of public hash-it-outs that the duo engaged in around this time.”It sort of became a media sensation,” Stage Guild artistic director Bill Largess told me, noting that Chesterton and Shaw were actually friends, and that their polemics were a little bit tongue-in-cheek. “They insulted each other back and forth, and it was all in very good humor,” he explained.
Largess found a transcript of the debate online while scouting around for a Shaw work the company hadn’t already staged. Apparently the only record of the Shaw-Chesterton debates to have survived, the text deals with rather subtle points related to socialist theories, but the colorful personalities of the polemicists–including Hilaire Belloc, who moderated–leap off the page. (Shaw teasingly notes that he’d like to wallop Chesterton with an umbrella, and Belloc wraps the session up by reciting a poem about fossil fuels.)
It’s interesting to note that another debate reenactment–the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production “The Rivalry,” about the Abraham Lincoln/Stephen Douglas debates–has recently extended its run in New York City. Aren’t there other seminal altercations from bygone years that might lend themselves to the modern limelight? Could this be a growth industry for theatres, perhaps collaborating with university history and philosophy departments?
(The Stage Guild’s Shaw-Chesterton performance–which is free–takes place at Flashpoint, 916 G Street, NW, Washington, D.C. at 2:30 and 7 pm on June 14. Call 240-582-0050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)