`Candida’ Remains One Of The Greats

“Candida” Friday night, Interplayers Ensemble, through March 4

George Bernard Shaw, despite being taught in lit class, is not some kind of medicine. He is not a playwright we tolerate because he might be good for us.

Shaw is wildly entertaining and intelligent, and he wrote scenes in 1894 that sound more modern and pertinent than almost anything written in a year beginning with 19. For proof, check out Interplayers’ production of “Candida.”

Interplayers’ publicity material calls this “one of the world’s great plays from one of the world’s great wits.” This would have been hyperbole only if they hadn’t gone out and proven it. The dialogue crackles, the plot gallops and the intellectual gymnastics are dizzying.

There was a time in the first act when I wasn’t sure they would pull this off. The first act was slow, and the actors seemed to be trying too hard. Gary Pierce as Mr. Burgess was so goofy and antic, he seemed to have arrived from the set of “Benny Hill.” The other actors were busy putting on their plummiest British accents, especially Mieke ter Poorten as Prosperpine, who sounded like an Oxford version of Glenda, the Good Witch of the North.

But then, when the curtain opens for the second act, the play zooms into another realm. A sizzling argument scene between Prosperpine and the young poet Eugene Marchbanks (Noah Tuleja) kicked the production into gear, and the energy and tension never flagged until the show ended two acts later. As directed by Robert Welch, the show becomes a riveting, and often hilarious, dissection of gender politics.

In fact, ter Poorten becomes one of the delights of this show, as she proves to be secretly (and at times drunkenly) in love with the good Rev. James Morell. Even Pierce becomes a welcome comic foil, although he remains a bit over-the-top.

The three main roles are well-cast. Michael Weaver is a perfect combination of pomposity and sincerity as Rev. Morell. He also has the most natural and unaffected British accent of anyone in the cast. Tuleja is a all dewy-eyed dreaminess as the 18-year-old poet who falls in love with Rev. Morell’s wife. He has that maddening moral certitude which is one of the natural by-products of being 18.

Christina Lang plays Candida with a great deal of mature intelligence. I wouldn’t call this a tour-de-force role - the play belongs as much to Morell and Marchbanks as it does to Candida - but her calm and rational performance serves Shaw’s intentions perfectly. Candida is the opposite of the impulsive woman ruled by her emotions. When she is forced to choose between her husband James and the wet-eyed suitor Eugene, she makes her choice on cold logic. Period.

Shaw keeps us wondering up until the end who she will choose, but when we finally find out, we realize she could never have made any other decision. Now, that’s good writing. Make that, the best writing.

MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: HIGHLIGHT The moment when Candida announces her decision.

This sidebar ran with story: HIGHLIGHT The moment when Candida announces her decision.

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