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A Good Enough Marriage

March 16, 2010

[My review of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida at the Irish Rep. Originally published in Show Business Weekly]


Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed and designed
by Tony Walton
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street

Review by Christopher Zara

“There are convenient marriages but no delightful ones,” quips James Morrell, the socialist reverend at the center of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida. The statement is a cheeky citation from the French moralist François de La Rochefoucauld, but it also serves as a sort of footnote for this comedy about the trappings of modern marriage. Inadvertently, the quote also stirs curiosity about the powers that be at the Irish Repertory Theatre, whose pious rendering of Candida feels a bit like a marriage of convenience itself. It is a solid piece by a company with a knack for unearthing the natural humor and genetically imposed sadness inherent in the works of Irish playwrights, but under the punctilious vision of director and designer Tony Walton, it falls just shy of greatness.

Nevertheless, both Walton and the Irish Rep have a deep understanding of Shaw’s best devices, in particular his tireless female leads who so often cling to what little power they have in male-dominated Victorian England. Dana Ivey impeccably embodied this archetype as the unrepentant brothel magnate of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in the Irish Rep’s 2005 production of that play. Similarly, Melissa Errico confidently tackles the detached pragmatism and stern perceptiveness of Candida’s titular heroine, who is caught in a love triangle of sorts between the long-winded James, to whom she is married, and a young, idealistic poet named Eugene. The triangle itself is really an excuse to chip away at the façade of James and Candida’s seemingly happy marriage. When Eugene first professes his love for James’s thirty-something wife, James simply laughs it off. The reverend is as confident as he is successful — a renowned public speaker who ostensibly sees little threat in the shy, barely pubescent Eugene. James also idealizes his wife, but devotion alone, Eugene argues, is not love, and it isn’t long before the youngster’s passionate attacks on the marriage begin to wear the tired James down. Ultimately, the question of who is the stronger of the two is exposed in the rubble of their debates.

The cast excels at reciting Shaw’s witty and pungent dialogue, which, let’s be honest, could be spoken by “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki and still be a feast for the ears. The wonderful Errico, a duly credible object of affection, is complemented by the talented young actor Sam Underwood, who is both funny and affecting as the lovelorn Eugene. Though squeaky at times, Underwood has a dazzling physicality, bringing Eugene’s neurotic leaps and bounds to spastic life. Other cast standouts include the terrific Brian Murray, as Shaw’s requisite gruff capitalist Burgess, and Xanthe Elbrick, as James’s impetuous secretary, Prossy. Irish Rep producing director Ciaran O’Reilly turns in a competent performance as James, easily portraying the reverend’s smugness and wit, but the actor does not exude the type of raw charisma necessary to pass James off as the magnetic public figure he is purported to be. As such, references to women ogling James during his sermons are not as credible as James’s own suggestion that ladies’ church going is merely a Sunday diversion.

We watch Candida as we would a summer blockbuster: on the edge of our seats, waiting. The hope is not for a mind-blowing alien world created by an army of effects wizards, but rather an equally riveting exposition of ideas, something to challenge us for the walk through Chelsea when it’s all over. The ideas are put forth with expert precision, but we are never really challenged, and maybe it’s because Candida never really transcends the sum of its parts, however proficient those parts might be. Still, it’s a worthy and timeless critique of matrimonial presumption, and for those whose interest is piqued by such things, the Irish Rep’s Candida is definitely a play to see — when it’s convenient, of course.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2010 5:28 pm

    If I were in the neighborhood, I would check it out.

  2. October 30, 2010 10:58 pm

    I can’t get past her name…

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