Candida, Cal Shakes

Written by:
Suzanne Weiss
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Nick Gabriel and Alexandra Henrikson in California Shakespeare Theater’s ‘Candida’
Photo by Kevin Berne


By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
California Shakespeare Theater (CalShakes)
Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda, Calif.
Aug. 10-Sept. 4, 2011
(See video short below.)

When I die I want to come back as a George Bernard Shaw heroine. Lacking the qualities of the magnificent Saint Joan, the financially astute Mrs. Warren, her principled daughter Vivie, or the underprivileged hilarity of Eliza Doolittle, I guess I might be cast as Candida. After all, I do know how to be a housewife and, believe it or not, I had a poetic swain or two pining after me—back in the day.

Shaw’s comic meditation on marriage, in a splendid revival at CalShakes, has a deep undercurrent of sad truth. Men tend to see a woman as they need to see her, not as she really is. And, even sadder, men often don’t know what their needs really are. The truth of this is played out in a spiffy Victorian setting (sets by Annie Smart; costumes by Anna Oliver) with the expected Shavian wit delivered by a fine cast.

First up is Anthony Fusco, spot-on as the Reverend James Morrell, a charismatic, supremely self-confident (or so it would seem) progressive clergyman happily married to an attractive woman who sees to his every want. That woman, elegantly portrayed by Julie Eccles—who seems born to play the part—goes deeper than peeling onions, scrubbing the floors and applauding Morrell’s sermons and speeches as her clueless spouse is soon to find out. The third member of the triangle is the young poet Eugene (Nick Gabriel), madly in love with Candida and even more madly in love with love.

Actually, this is not a perfect triangle. It has a few bumps in the way of the reverend’s secretary (a very funny Alexandra Henrikson), who is herself in love with the boss, and the cleric’s earnest assistant, Lexy Mill (Liam Vincent) who gets a little giddy in the presence of the boss’s wife. The cast is rounded out by Jarion Monroe as Candida’s father, a ruthless, blustering businessman of the sort Shaw and his fellow members of the Socialist Fabian Society viewed with contempt.

Gabriel is a little over-the-top as the lovesick Eugene but, after all, as we find out late in the play, the boy is only 18 when he describes Candida to her husband as “a woman with a great soul … being fed on metaphors.” It is Fusco who delivers those metaphors with deadpan perfection, anchoring the play with a matter-of-fact attitude toward everything but a challenge to his marriage. The scenes between the two men are probably the most enjoyable in the show. Candida is left to choose between them and her surprising choice goes to the weakest. Director Jonathan Moscone ends it all on an unusual (for Victorian drama) sexual note that brings a whole new set of values into play. As is the way with Shaw, you are sent out into the night with your brain stimulated, your ideas challenged and your funny bone tickled. Sure better than a TV sitcom!

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