Warren Kelley and Claire Warden
in Engaging Shaw
(© Kim T. Sharp)
Warren Kelley and Claire Warden
in Engaging Shaw
(© Kim T. Sharp)
The Abingdon Theatre Company production of John Morogiello's drawing-room comedy Engaging Shaw not only lives up to its title -- it's absolutely delightful, thanks to a scintillating script, agile direction from Jackob G. Hofmann, and solid performances by an accomplished cast.

Admittedly, the production starts out with several strikes against it. For example, the work is exceedingly talky. (Of course, would you expect anything less when dealing with a man who was a prolific, if brilliant windbag?) And it takes place on what has to be New York's tiniest stage. Luckily, these obstacles are overcome.

The action opens with prominent socialist Sidney Webb (Marc Geller) gassing on about some Fabian precepts: until his wife, Beatrice (Jamee Vance) -- by all accounts an equally formidable intellect -- waylays the conversation to address her avocation: matchmaking. She has a certain painter in mind for the notoriously flirtatious but elusive Mr. Shaw (Warren Kelley, suitably grandiose, to the point of appropriately annoying).

However, Shaw inadvertently bags his own prey when his bicycle sideswipes Irish heiress Charlotte Payne-Townshend (Claire Warden), whom the Webbs are counting on to bankroll their London School of Economics. The 40-year-old intentional spinster falls hard for the cranky, egomaniacal Shaw, whose favored modus operandi is emotional philandery. Indeed, Shaw brags to her that he's all talk (or, better yet, letters) and no action. Even so, she's powerless against her attraction to this "celibate Don Juan" and quickly sets her sights on securing "exclusivity."

It's fun to watch as a proud, resolute woman like Charlotte -- whom Warden also makes quite adorable -- gradually turns as petulant as a teenager when her ardor is not reciprocated. Working in concert with Beatrice (who's forced to come to terms with her own susceptibility to Shaw's perverse allure), Charlotte maps out a strategy as assiduously as a general would plan a war campaign.

Who could ever have imagined that a battle of wits between two professed asexuals could be so juicy -- and so funny? Indeed, Morogiello's approach to playwriting is more Wildean than Shavian: even as "big ideas" loom in the background, the bon mots bounce about like badminton birdies.