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Theater Review

C'mon, loosen up already

Shaw's 'Candida,' at the Colony, is plummy and intermittently

February 11, 2009|David Ng

The collars are stiff and the corsets feel a tad too tight in the new revival of "Candida" at the Colony Theatre in Burbank.

This production of George Bernard Shaw's 1898 comedy of domestic upheaval is a handsome and respectable endeavor, but the cast's overly mannered delivery suggests that some of the wardrobe starch has found its way into the backstage drinking water.

Set in Victorian England, "Candida" portrays a rarefied milieu in which emotional repression reigns supreme and women are regarded as the property of their husbands.

The story revolves around the pompous Rev. Morell (Mark Deakins) and his goodly wife, Candida (Willow Geer), who lead a pleasant if rather dull bourgeois existence.

Their marriage abruptly fissures with the arrival of Eugene Marchbanks (Johnathan McClain), a klutzy and romantic young poet, who declares his love for the reverend's wife. Egos flare, and the heroine is eventually forced to choose between her two admirers.

The cast is impressively committed to the material, but their performances come off as 21st century conceptions of how 19th century people supposedly behaved -- ramrod posture, stentorian delivery and plummy accents. Deakins puts too much bluster in the reverend's sanctimonious speeches (and comes close to parodying his own character), while Geer's Candida is more mannequin than human -- beautifully porcelain but unremittingly stiff.

The role of the immature Marchbanks is usually played for comic relief, and McClain's performance is fun to watch as he unleashes a series of clownish pratfalls. But his approach is ultimately more technique than substance -- a bag of tricks (or tics) that can't quite conceal the lack of a thematically resonant interpretation.

Still, a middling Shaw revival is better than most plays today, and the Colony's production -- which originated at the Utah Shakespearean Festival -- delivers isolated moments of grace. The exchanges between Candida and her young suitor have a Champagne sparkle mixed with sad wisdom. And the final confrontation between the main protagonists is a precisely rendered vignette of romantic trigonometry.

These moments are unfortunately too few. Under Kathleen F. Conlin's direction, "Candida" moves along at a clip that often feels hurried. The cast speed-walks across the stage as if someone had left his finger on the fast-forward button. More grievously, some of Shaw's bons mots don't have time to fully register as the dialogue flies by.

Shaw isn't an easy dramatist to get right, especially when he mixes heady political commentary with straightforward entertainment as he does here. The reverend is a committed socialist and enjoys verbally sparring with his father-in-law (Matthew Henerson), an industrial-capitalist fat cat. Meanwhile, Candida and the reverend's secretary (Kate Hollinshead) could arguably be called proto-feminist for their subversion of the patriarchal system.

"Candida" is above all a comedy, and the humor comes from Shaw's knowledge of human weakness and capacity for self-deception. The cast shares that wisdom, but it's hard to laugh with them through the thick cloud of actorly affectation.




Where: Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 8.

Price: $37 to $42

Contact: (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15

Running time: 2 hours

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