By: Jason Clark
Although The Irish Rep has presented several classics by George Bernard Shaw, one would be hard-pressed to find a more tenderhearted production than their current revival of his 1898 Candida, which happens to be one of the playwright’s most sly and unassuming works. In his pleasant production designer/director Tony Walton has guided a truly fine cast through a tricky text that blends Shaw’s astute observations on the melding of religion, politics and affairs of the heart.
When the play opens, we meet Rev. James Morell (a sturdy Ciaran O’Reilly), a decorated clergyman who is madly in love with his charming wife Candida (the lovely Melissa Errico), a beauty with even better instincts. Her prickly father Mr. Burgess (Brian Murray) has a curious distaste for the Reverend’s preaching ways, and often condescends to the younger figures in the married couple’s lives, namely a sweet curate (Josh Grisetti) and impertinent typist (Xanthe Elbrick), who work at their estate. Enter the nervous yet cunning Eugene Marshbanks (Sam Underwood), an 18 year-old poet, who falls madly for Candida, much to the chagrin of her doting husband. A love triangle emerges not out of lust but admiration, when Shaw shrewdly turns his attention onto the true nature of Candida, revealing her to be a liberated woman capable of assessing her own virtues and ideals.
Shaw’s work is always more fruitful when his bottled-up inhabitants cut loose a bit, which is why his plays are so much fun to revive, however, Walton’s production opts for a less combustible naturalistic sensibility. Although the director’s approach is not detrimental, the path stymies the playwright’s looser exchanges. This change in mentality, however, yields rewards as well, especially in the hands of his marvelous cast.
As Candida, the desirable central figure, Errico is ravishing in Walton’s handsome costumes, and Underwood, if a bit heavy on Eugene’s fumbling nature, is suitably smitten and often endearing. Murray, especially, can carry Shaw’s lines beautifully and his cadences are like classical music to the ears. The supporting actors, however, threaten to steal the evening. The immensely gifted Grisetti (Enter Laughing) is effortlessly ingratiating with only a handful of scenes, and Elbrick, typically known for her dramatic flair in works like Coram Boy, is fiercely funny as the strong-willed typist, displaying a flair for period comedy that suggests she ought to do more.
Stellar performances like these lift the evening immensely, and if even if you think Shaw is not for you, Candida just might be the tonic to convince you
Candida is now playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St between 6th and 7th Aves, through April 18. Running time: 2 hours, one intermission. For tickets call 212-727-2737 or visit http://www.irishrep.org/.