This classic Shaw
comedy was last staged at the Festival in 2003. It’s back, with new trimmings, at the Royal George Theatre, where it plays in repertory through October 27th. The production was directed by Eda Holmes, and designed by Judith Bowden. It runs just shy of two-and-a-half hours, with its single intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Here is Shaw on familiar ground, exploring the curious mating habits of his countrymen, and the ever-perplexing parent-child bond. The action (what there is of it) takes place at the country house of John Tarleton, the Underwear King, supposedly in the spring of 1962 (more about that later). The young adults and older members of the Tarleton and Summerhays clans converse cleverly, until the their rustic serenity (or is it boredom?) is upset by the crash landing of daredevil pilot Joey Percival and his memorable passenger, the Polish acrobat/aviatrix Lena Szczepanowska. Add in a loosely wrapped young man in search of vengeance on Tarleton, and you’ve got all the ingredients for what, I assure you, is a very lively second act!
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY AND THE PRODUCTION: Tara Rosling, as the rough-and-ready, Garbo-esque Lena, is the standout here. Miss Rosling is a howl decrying (in a wonderful Slavic accent) all the romantic overtures she’s engendered, and attempting to make men of a couple of the company’s more pathetic males. As Hypatia Tarleton, the hypotenuse of the main romantic triangle, Krista Colosimo is pleasingly brash, flirtatious. Untrained for the world, and only really suitable for the marriage game, we sympathize with Hypatia, and understand her need to be “an active verb”. If Ms Colosimo is a little short of stature, and has been costumed unappealingly, these are small faults. Ben Sanders’ gets plenty of laughs as Bentley Summerhays, Lord
Summerhays’ incorrigible puppy of a son. A string-bean braniac prone to infantile tantrums, he tangles humorously with several other characters. As the dashing pilot, Joey Percival, Wade Bogert-O’Brien starts off slowly, but grows on you. Craig Pike is most amusing as the volatile, whining, gun-toting Socialist, ready to strike a blow for the working classes on behalf of his poor dead mum. They are all good, really: Peter Krantz as the stodgy Lord Summerhays, Thom Marriott as Tarleton–egoist and aging lion, Catherine McGregor as the elegant Mrs T, and Jeff Meadows as Johnny Tarleton–low-aspiring, fun-loving athelete and bully.
Ms Holmes has enlivened the play with many humorous bits, including Johnny’s pursuit of a troublesome fly at the very outset. This new MISALLIANCE is never static, even in its admittedly “talky” first act. Goodness knows why they have reset the time to 1962! The explanation in the program is most unsatisfying, and the audience gets stuck with a number of clunky anachronisms as a result. Happily though, the witty Shaw script shines through, and, in some respects at least, it has been well-served here. I wish I could give this one the full five buffalos, but the time-tinkering thing is just too big to overlook.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!