Next to Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw has probably done more to line the pockets of regional thespians and theatrical entrepreneurs than any one man since the Greeks invented drama. But, whereas Asolo Repertory Theatre began its last season with a fabulous production of “Pygmalion” directed by Frank Galati, who appeared to have been visited in his dreams every night of the rehearsal by Shaw himself, it was rather disappointing to see FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training end its fabulous season with this production of “Candida.” Director Andrei Malaev-Babel appeared to be visited by Pee Wee Herman and Jerry Lewis, instead, which is not to say the play wasn’t engaging and often funny, it was, and I recommend seeing it. Flaws and all, it’s still enjoyable.
The play is about Candida, the wife of a Fabian-Socialist clergyman, the Rev. James Morell, rather blandly interpreted by Brian Nemiroff, who’s been wonderful in everything else I’ve seen him in. The fly in Morell’s otherwise exceptionally satisfying domestic ointment is Eugene Marchbanks, a shy, uncertain youth representing Shaw’s notion of the aesthete artiste, who is romantically, desperately in love with Candida, whom he believes to exemplify the divine feminine, to be a Madonna. Otherwise intriguing, Ben Williamson gives an over-the-top cartoonish spin on Marchbanks, which is further enforced by his ridiculously high trousers and jacket shoulders that have been padded toward the front, adding to an already overly sniveling posture. Morell believes Candida to be a Madonna, as well, but a more personal and practical variety, whom he desperately needs and who also needs him. Ultimately, Candida must choose. The shining light of this particular production, Amanda Lynn Mullen, plays her with authenticity and confidence, in complete agreement with the playwright’s views on women’s liberation in 1874.
Kristen Lynne Blossom takes a nice turn as Morell’s secretary, as does Jefferson McDonald as a friend of the family. Reginald K. Robinson Jr. plays Candida’s father, a business tycoon and self-made man with a thick Cockney accent, which is, unfortunately, nearly impossible to understand. Chris McVickers’ set design is English cozy, and Ross Boehringer’s costumes suit the period.
if you go
“Candida” runs through April 28, at Asolo Repertory Theatre. For more information, call 351-8000.
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