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A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
Every once in a while, there's a confluence of forces that transports a production from the range of "good" or even "very good" into the realm of "excellent." The Pearl Theatre Company's revival of Shaw's Candida seems to have arrived at just the right place and just the right time.
Within the Shavian oeuvre, Candida is a play that is marked by the absence of the "typical" complaints about Shaw's plays. It's not "all talk and no play." (Compare Misalliance, my review of which is linked below, which even Shaw concedes is more of a debate than a play). Unlike You Never Can Tell (also recently reviewed and linked below), it is not so "light" that it seems unimportant. Finally, even though written as a contemporary play 104 years ago about life in a Christian Socialist's parsonage, it somehow manages to remain remarkably edgy.
Candida is all about an odd love triangle. The Reverend James Mavor Morell (Martin Kildare) is busy with the work of his church, but he's even more in demand as a public speaker. That there is not very much behind his words is beside the point (or, perhaps, it is the point). After a three week holiday, his heretofore dutiful wife Candida (Joanne Camp) returns, accompanied by a privileged if hypersensitive eighteen-year-old poet, Eugene Marchbanks (Daniel J. Shore), of whom Morell has taken a liking. Marchbanks upsets the apple cart by proclaiming, seemingly implausibly, his love for Candida. What follows is a fascinating examination of what today we would call "sexual politics," against the backdrop of a portrait of this strong but enigmatic woman.
The canvas on which director Clare Davidson paints this portrait is a particularly fine one: Beowolf Boritt's rendition of Morell's study, warmly lit by Robert Williams, is richly detailed and appropriately comfortable. Sarah Beers has designed costumes that are both period perfect and so evocative of the character's personalities that much of the play could be performed in mime with little loss of content. But it is the exceptional, finely-tuned performances that make this a memorable production.
This is a play with six characters, each with a very definite nature. Davidson is able to draw the eccentricity from each portrayal without any noticeable overreaching or exaggeration. Morell is a man of speech steeped in the art of homily and the sanctity of tradition. Kildare finds the perfect posture: proud but not gallant, glib but not sharp. Shaw has him called a "moralist windbag," but Kildare rightly errs of the lower edge of pomposity. Even his anger and humiliation are meted out in measured strokes.
Marchbanks marches to the beat of a very different drummer. His words are supported by thought rather than sound, but his ideas are borne of emotion not intellect. Like his opposite, Shore adopts a temperament which consistently structures Marchbank's every action: his breathing, his stance, his delivery. There are no foul notes. Even when playing Eugene's frailty for laughs, which he does brilliantly and convincingly, Shore does not overstep his character. Morell calls him a "sniveling whelp," and he is.
More complex is Candida, at once conservative and outrageous, feminine and forceful. Camp, at first blush, seems oddly cast -- more mature than one would expect. But the fact is, Candida is ageless, and Camp meticulously renders a woman who, as the theater's "Playgoer's Supplement" suggests she should be, is more maternal than sexual.
The remaining cast is also excellent. Pearl regular Edward Seamon, as Candida's father, Burgess, controls the play comedically (although Shore gives him a run for his money). Newcomer Kia Christina Heath captures the essence of the Reverend's secretary, Miss Proserpine (Prossy) Garnett, and also contributes mightily if subtly to the laughs, especially in the first scene of the second act when she is alone with Eugene and later when she has the temerity to sip champagne. Finally, Christopher Moore, although given less to play with as Morell's curate, is completely harmonious with his colleagues.
Although it boasts two intermissions, this is but a two hour production. In these fine hands, the time passes in a blink. A cast change in the tone-setting role of Morell will occur next week.
LINKS TO REVIEWS MENTIONED ABOVE
Review of Misalliance
Review of You Never Can Tell