George Bernard Shaw was always the most modern of old-school playwrights. His ideas and themes were progressive, often to the detriment of getting the plays produced, even if his style and technique were throwbacks to conventional structures. Shaw loved a grand performance, and he wrote outsized expansive characters that inflated to fill the stage.
Today there are hardly any playwrights not named Tony Kushner who consider approaching grand themes with comedy and drama on the stage as Shaw routinely did. His 1905 masterpiece Major Barbara, now running at San Franciscos American Conservatory Theater, shows Shaw at his finest in a handsome, fulfilling production. Ostensibly about guns and money, but also about proper uses of power and influence, Shaw subverts expectations.
The most compelling arguments come from the character who should be the least sympathetic, munitions maker and über-capitalist Andrew Undershaft. Though Dean Paul Gibsons convincing Undershaft unexpectedly moves nearly everyone to his side, only Gretchen Halls resistant Barbara fails to fall under his spell. The production comes with a stunning impressionistic set by Daniel Ostling and standout supporting performances from Kandis Chappell as Lady Britomart, Nicholas Pelczar as Aldolphus Cusins, and Sacramentos Brian Rivera as Bill Walker. Directed by Dennis Garnhum in co-production with Theatre Calgary.
At the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco, through Feb 2. Tickets: $20-$140. Information: (415) 749-2228; www.act-sf.org .
Myra Melford piano solo
The spirited, progressive pianist Myra Melford comes to Sacramento for a solo concert celebrating the release of her album Life Carries Me This Way. Its her first solo piano recording in a distinctive 25-year career.
She has always had an exploratory bent, staking out modernist territory in the vein of mentors such as Don Pullen and Henry Threadgill. Though Melford maintains a free, outside-based approach, shes a richly detailed composer.
The Crocker Art Museum concert will highlight music inspired by the drawings of her late longtime friend and Sacramento resident Don Reich, whose work is in the Crocker collection. In her albums liner notes, Medford writes, The range of Dons work the kinds of spaces and places it inhabits seem to dovetail naturally with my own tendency toward lyricism, abstraction and rhythmic mobility.
7 p.m. Thursday, Crocker Art Museum, 216 O St., Sacramento. Tickets: $6-$12. Information: (916) 808-7000, crockerartmuseum.org . Space is limited and reserving tickets is recommended.