Let’s clear this up from the beginning: This is not “Candide,” the Voltaire satire, nor is it “Candide,” the Leonard Bernstein musical.
This is “Candida,” with an “a” on the end, and it’s George Bernard Shaw through and through. This 1894 Shaw masterpiece, which opens at Interplayers tonight, is a romantic triangle, if the word “romantic” can be applied to anything written by this enemy of sentimentality.
It’s about Candida, a strong, wellrounded turn-of-the-century young woman and the dilemma that she faces about men. On one hand, she is adored by her smug and earnest clergyman husband. On the other hand, she is adored by a naive young poet. She must decide between the two, although the choice turns out not to be as difficult as it seems.
It has long been the most popular Shaw play, partly because it never sounds like one endless political argument.
“Here are no long Shavian lectures; this is a full-blooded and moving play,” wrote critic and scholar Joseph T. Shipley.
“Its story was less beset by matters of passing topical interest and had more of a genuine love story than any other major Shaw play,” wrote Gerald Bordman in the Oxford Companion to American Theatre. “And so it has retained a loyal following, and enjoyed more important revivals, than other Shaw plays.”
The play has endured well for two reasons: First, it is a strikingly modern-sounding dissection of marriage and love.
“The meaning of the term `the weaker sex’ is redefined,” said Interplayers artistic director Joan Welch.
Second, it has one of the stage’s great characters: Candida herself.
“So wholesomely moral is Candida in her immorality and so captivatingly immoral in her morality, that she is one of the most fascinating exhibits in the Shaw museum,” said the New York Dramatic Mirror in 1915.
Shaw himself had some insights into her in a letter he wrote in “She is a woman without `character’ in the conventional sense. Without brains and strength of mind she would be a wretched slattern and voluptuary. She is straight for natural reasons, not conventional ethical ones.”
No wonder the character has been a magnet for many of the great actresses of the 20th century. In New York, Candida has been played by Katherine Cornell, Cornelia Otis Skinner and even Clare Boothe Luce.
The various males in the play have been played by Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith and Marlon Brando.
In the Interplayers production, Candida will be played by Christina Lang, who gave one of the best performances of the season last year as Keely in “Keely and Du.” She was most recently seen as the chronically tipsy Marian in “Absurd Person Singular.”
Interplayers mainstay Michael Weaver will play her clergyman husband and Noah Tuleja will play the poet Marchbanks. The rest of the cast includes Mieke ter Poorten, R. Marquam Krantz and Gary Pierce.
The director is Interplayers cofounder Robert A. Welch.
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: “Candida” Location and time: Interplayers Ensemble, S174 Howard, opens tonight, continues through March 4. Curtain is 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. There will be 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Feb. 15 and 18. Tickets: $12 and $14; $11 for matinees, call 455-PLAY