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A CurtainUp Review
In The Philanderer Shaw takes aim not only at the relationship between men and women, but also the medical profession, the generation gap and, most importantly, the influence of the then maverick playwright, Henrik Ibsen. At a time when single motherhood has become almost epidemic, there's something strangely prescient in the way Shaw's philandering "hero" uses to his own advantage the woman's liberation movement inspired by Ibsen's feminist beliefs.
Theater Ten Ten's revival succeeds precisely because director Leah Bonvissuto makes no attempt to update or reconsider Shaw's script, instead relying on more than capable actors and Shaw's pungent and hilarious script.
Julian Stetkevych heads the cast as Leonard Charteris, a young man who has wooed and won two women in succession: the very feminine and weepy Julia Craven (Tatiana Gomberg) and the more calculating and independent widow, Grace Tranfield (Anne Gill). Julia clings while Grace, every bit Leonard's match, manipulates. Julia has a younger sister, Sylvia (Barrie Kreinik), a truly liberated woman who wears trousers and smokes in public.
All three women, along with Charteris, belong to the Ibsen Club, one of the few clubs open to both men and women on an equal basis. But Julia has only been admitted through Charteris's backing. Her overt feminism makes her suspect in this club that proudly and prominently displays the playwright's picture in its library.
Julia and Grace have something in common, in addition to the same lover. Both have aging fathers who are struggling with the changes that have come about as the Victorian era comes to a close. Grace's father, Joseph Cuthbertson (Duncan Hazard) has made his peace with the liberated woman and even joined the Ibsen club. Julia's father, Colonel Daniel Craven (Greg Horton) is perplexed and not at all amused by the less than gallant men and the less than coy women they court.
To add to his woes, the colonel is suffering from a fatal liver ailment diagnosed by the earnest Dr. Paramore (Mickey Ryan). His love and affection for his two daughters is mingled with a good dose of self-pity. The carefully ordered world of both the good doctor and his suffering patient is quickly overturned when Paramore finds out that the disease he has discovered is nonexistent.
While the deeply disappointed Paramore is in love with Julia, she is still in love with Charteris who wants to dump her for Grace. And Grace, a modern woman, wants her freedom above all else. In Shaw's world the triumph of love seems an impossibility.
The Philanderer fulfills all the requirements of a Shavian comedy. However, its ambivalent ending (after all the intrigue, what kind of future awaits the happy couples?) and overriding goal of educating its audience mean that any production must tread a fine line between broad burlesque and reasoned satire. Bonvissuto and her cast manage to keep the audience laughing and thinking at the same time. Stetkevych is despicable, yet properly Victorian, with all the wit of an English gentleman. Gomberg makes Julia ridiculous but never contemptible. And the superb Horton, with his top hat and walking stick, personifies a vanishing era with dignity and genuine perplexity.
Theater Ten Ten, making a virtue of necessity, uses its small space to create a feeling of great intimacy. Scene changes are executed quickly and efficiently by actors who stay in character. What a joy to see theater that may not have all the trimmings but certainly has all the heart.
For more about George Bernard Shaw and links to other plays by him Curtainup has reviewed, see our Shaw Backgrouder