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Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor. Thu.-Sun., through April 15. Tickets: $25-$37. For information: 734-663-0696 or http://www.performancenetwork.org
There’s something about George Bernard Shaw that turns off a lot of contemporary theatergoers. It could be the playwright’s Socialist politics, his characters’ incessant chatter or the sermons he delivers through some of his works. Or maybe it’s the fact that societal concerns of the late nineteenth century are no longer relevant in the twenty-first.
For others, though, there’s nothing quite so delightful as watching a well-staged production of a Shaw classic unfold before your very eyes – or listening to the sparkling dialogue carefully crafted by one of the medium’s true masters.
Such is the case with John Seibert’s vibrant production of “Candida” that’s now playing at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre. (I expect nothing less from this always fine director!)
First staged in 1897, Shaw’s comedy is set in the home of a Christian Socialist preacher, James Morell, and his lovely wife, Candida, who returns home to her husband after a few weeks away. With her is 18-year-old Eugene Marchbanks, the son of an English nobleman who’d rather be a poet than a statesman.
He’d also make a better husband for Candida, the love-struck young man believes. So he sets about to challenge the parson for the hand of his beautiful – but very independent-minded – wife.
Candida gets caught in the middle, of course. So she must choose between the husband who offers her security and the naive romantic who needs to learn an important lesson about love. But what will each take away from their fateful encounter?
Although Shaw’s basic premise seems almost laughable in today’s post-feminist world, the playwright still offers us insight into the inner workings of men and women. And while Shaw STILL manages to preach at us, it’s brilliantly accomplished through snappy wordplay that grabs your attention and never lets go.
Neither does director Seibert. Always a class act, it’s obvious Seibert understands that there’s nothing duller than a poorly conceived Shaw museum piece. So his vigorous staging keeps the story moving. Yet it’s the little character touches he offers through his very talented actors that make this production especially enjoyable.
John Lepard – who has been everywhere lately – portrays Morell with a perfect blend of pastoral concern and moral pompousness – and the comeuppance he receives in act two is well-played.
So, too, is Teri Clark Linden’s Candida. While outwardly she’s the dutiful housewife expected of her times, every expression she cracks reveals otherwise.
But it’s Jacob Hodgson as Eugene who thoroughly captures the essence of his character. A nervous sort who will fight with words, but not his fists, Hodgson explores Eugene both vocally and physically, and creates a sympathetic teen about to burst into manhood. Watching him sulk in the baby highchair is a priceless bit that reveals plenty about his character.
If there’s one drawback to the production, it’s this: Although everyone’s British accents are flawless, a couple of the actors must remember to enunciate clearly at all times, as some of the dialogue on opening night was lost when they were speaking quickly.
Two other characters also deserve mention: Monika Essen’s exquisite set and Suzanne Hanna’s beautiful costumes.