Virtual script readings
help fill the COVID theatre void

Bedlam Theatre does a fine reading of Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell

By Byron Toben

In these days of live theatre adapting to virtual readings of scripts, few have done better than the Bedlam Theatre of New York. These are basically free for us shut-ins, but they do request voluntary donations to various charities, a different one each play. They perform a new play on Tuesdays every two weeks apart. I enjoyed Paula Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home for instance.

I was really looking forward to their rendition of G. Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan In Hell when it was interrupted by Hurricane Laura, twice. This play was originally written as Act 3 of Shaw’s 4-act play, Man and Superman in 1903. The other three acts premiered in 1905 and this detachable act premiered alone in 1907. It wasn’t until 1915 that the two were united in the same performance. You may now watch Bedlam’s reading of the play via YouTube.

In 1952, in New York, Don Juan in Hell was a hit on the stage with Charles Laughton as the Devil, Charles Boyer as Don Juan, Cedric Hardwick as the Commander and Agnes Moorehead as Dona Ana – a real all-star cast of the day!

Don Juan in Hell actors -

Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Agnes Moorehead and Cedric Hardwick in Don Juan in Hell – Image: publicity photo for the show

The same cast recorded an LP record of the show which I heard years later and was my own real introduction to G. Bernard Shaw. I always mention him as G. Bernard as he hated his first name of George and rarely used it, preferring GBS.

The play discusses many things in the universe, especially Shaw’s fixation with the “life force” seeking to realize itself (reminding me of Henri Bergson’s élan vital).

In these days of live theatre adapting to virtual readings of scripts, few have done better than the Bedlam Theatre of New York.

Lots of great Shaw quotes in this play, but I remember being floored by one adjective. The Devil, in describing Man as a genius in the arts of war, mentions that Man has his finger on unleashing “hidden molecular” energies into arms. This in 1903, twelve years before Albert Einstein announced that E=mc² in 1915.

Einstein fled continental Europe in 1933, with a price on his head while Nazi assassins were seeking him, staying in England. There he met Shaw and they kept in touch even after Einstein moved to the USA. Here is a rare clip of Shaw honouring Einstein at a 1930 dinner.

Bedlam Theatre’s next benefit reading is on September 25. It is Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler and proceeds will go to the charity Artists Striving to End Poverty. Ibsen was a great influence on Shaw, who was cast as Krogstad in a private reading of that play in 1886, organized by Eleanor Marx (Karl’s daughter) who read Hedda.

To access Bedlam Theatre’s readings schedule visit

Feature image: Don Juan in Hell by Charles S. Ricketts – Grundy Art Gallery
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Read more articles from Byron Toben

Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

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