CANDIDA at CalShakes is superb, riveting, humorous

Left (l -r) Jarion Monroe as Mr. Burgess offered a friendly handsahke by Anthony Fusco as Rev. Morrell.

Right (l to r) Anthony Fusco wins out with Julia Ecoles (Candida) over Nick Gabriel (Marchbanks).
Photos by Kevin Burns

CANDIDA by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Jonathan Moscone. California Shakespeare Theatre (CalShakes), Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Way,Orinda, CA 94563. 510-809-3290 or August 10 – September 4, 2011

CANDIDA at CalShakes is superb, riveting, humorous and much more.

For those theatregoers who complain that George Bernard Shaw’s plays are too didactic and long winded will change their minds by attending the remarkable production of Candida that CalShakes has mounted for their third show of this season. Jonathan Moscone’s love for Shaw’s plays is again displayed as a follow up to his last outing with Mrs. Warren’s Profession. It is perfect in every category of theatre.

The casting could not be better with the actors investing their roles with verisimilitude that fits Shaw’s explicit characterizations. Egotistical Shaw even includes the stage setting and individual movements of every actor in his text. Annie Smart’s magnificent set of a Victorian household is centered on the open stage enhanced by York Kennedy’s lighting and Will McCandless’ sound. This allows Moscone to ignore Shaw’s suggested stage movements and adroitly move his actors with synchronized style and subtle meaningful directorial touches that are impressive.

Reverend Morrell (Anthony Fusco) is the titular head of the household described by Shaw as “a Christian Socialist clergyman of the Church of England, and an active member of the Guild of St. Matthew and the Christian Social Union. A vigorous, genial, popular man of forty, robust and good-looking, full of energy, with pleasant, hearty, considerate manners, and a sound, unaffected voice, which he uses with the clean, athletic articulation of a practised orator, and with a wide range and perfect command of expression. Fusco nails that description to a T and as the play progresses, and Morell’s assurance erodes, you feel his uncertainty.

It is his wife Candida (Julie Eccoles) who becomes Shaw’s protagonist. “She is a woman of 33, well built, well nourished, likely, one guesses, to become matronly later on, but now quite at her best, with the double charm of youth and motherhood. Her ways are those of a woman who has found that she can always manage people by engaging their affection, and who does so frankly and instinctively without the smallest scruple.” Gorgeous Julie Eccles enters and it becomes readily apparent that Candida is the Shaw’s favorite investing her with the qualities he admires in women. Shrewd Moscone adds sexy to her attributes and Eccles glides between the each character with grace and ease. In the final scene of Act 3 she displays Moscone’s added attribute as the lights fade.

Her motherly instinct is apparent when she brings Eugene Marchbanks (Nick Gabriel) an 18 year old esthete poet into the household and he becomes the impetus for conflict with Reverend Morrell. (“He is a strange, shy youth of eighteen, slight, effeminate, with a delicate childish voice, and a hunted, tormented expression and shrinking manner that show the painful sensitiveness that very swift and acute apprehensiveness produces in youth, before the character has grown to its full strength.”) Nick Gabriel dominates the stage with his enthusiasm infused with shy, but aggressive uncertainty with adult observations that belie his youth. His poetic puppy love for Candida incites the act 3 confrontation that is a gem of directorial skill. Moscone uses every inch of the stage as his characters circle about like boxers in ring, feinting and throwing verbal jabs with a dollop of actual violence.

Shaw surrounds his major characters with three delightful personages to round out the play and each is given lines expressing his philosophical views. Do not be put off by the preceding line since the acting and interaction are so real you will not realize Shaw is teaching us a lesson. Jarion Monroe as Mr. Burgess, Candida’s father, complete with mutton-chop beard is a delight. (“He is a man of sixty, made coarse and sordid by the compulsory selfishness of petty commerce, and later on softened into sluggish bumptiousness by overfeeding and commercial success). Jarion Munro’s verbal delivery and expressive raising of his eyebrows and occasional reticence makes it difficult not to like Mr. Burgess. This may not be as Shaw has intended and Moscone must take the blame for that faux pas. . . if it is one.

Alexandra Henrickson as Miss Proserpine Garnett, (“The typist is a brisk little woman. . rather pert and quick of speech, and not very civil in her manner, but sensitive and affectionate) could not be better. Her exchanges with Reverend Lexy Mills, Morrell’s assistant, (Liam Vincent replacing the indisposed Nicolas Pelczar) and Marchbanks are a joy to witness and her haughtiness after an evening of drinking champagne is hilarious. In the verbal exchanges Liam Vincent matches Hendrickson line for line even though Lexy is taking the brunt of her barbs.

At possibly being accused of redundancy, this production is the complete package, not forgetting Anna Oliver's Victorian costumes with special accolades for Candida's beautiful gowns. Running time is a brief two hours including the two 10 minute interruptions. I use the word “interruptions” since you will be anxious to return for the following acts.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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