Too True to Be Good (1932), a comedy written by playwright George Bernard Shaw premieres at the Guild Theatre in New York City on April 4, 1932. Subtitled “A Collection of Stage Sermons by a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,” it moves from surreal allegory to the “stage sermons” in which characters discuss political, scientific and other developments of the day. The second act of the play contains a character, Private Napoleon Meek, based on Shaw’s friend T. E. Lawrence.
The play explicitly deals with the existential crisis that hit Europe after the end of World War I, especially the emergence of a “modernist” culture fueled by uncertainties created by Freudian psychology and Albert Einstein‘s new physics. The whole of the second and third acts of the play have often been interpreted as a dream of escape occurring in the mind of the feverish Patient (hence the talking Microbe‘s comment that the “real” action is over), and the Patient repeatedly says that what is happening is a dream.
The play is an early example of the formal experimentation with allegory and the absurd that become a feature of Shaw’s later work, having much in common with the later play The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, which is also set in an obscure island at the edge of the British Empire. Its absurdist elements later lead to its being viewed as a precursor to the work of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.
The idea that microbes, specifically bacteria, are somehow made sick by human illnesses is a belief that Shaw repeatedly promotes, claiming that disease produces mutations in bacteria, misleading doctors into the belief that “germs” cause disease. The play dramatises his theory that life-energy itself cures illness.
The play is first staged on Monday, February 29, 1932, at Boston‘s Colonial Theatre, by the Theatre Guild. After the April performance in New York it is followed in the same year by a production in Malvern, Worcestershire starring Beatrice Lillie, Claude Rains, and Leo G. Carroll.
The play receives a Broadway revival in 1963, directed by Albert Marre and starring Robert Preston, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, Cedric Hardwicke, Cyril Ritchard, Glynis Johns, and Eileen Heckart. This production features incidental music by Mitch Leigh, who later works with Marre on Man of La Mancha. It has also been presented at the Shaw Festival four times: in 1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006.