George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida” is being given superlative treatment by the Berkshire Theatre Festival. This production offers Shaw as Shaw ought to be played with full-blown commitment to his characters’ emotions, his themes and his social agenda. One of his most tender, complex and polished texts, “Candida” was said to be his personal favorite. The playwright would be most grateful for this production.
WHERE: Berkshire Theatre Festival, Rte 102, Stockbridge, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 5
HOW MUCH: $80-$46 with discounts available
MORE INFO: (413) 298-5576
Its title character is the most provocative of his women. “Candy” (Jayne Atkinson), as she is known to her grizzled, conservative father, Mr. Burgess (David Schramm), is the ideal Victorian wife — the mother, the sister, the daughter, the forbearing lover — and she constantly see-saws between these roles. At the same time, she is unscrupulous in her courting of the young poet, Marchbanks (Finn Wittrock), who is flamingly in love with her.
Her husband, The Reverend James Mavor Morell (Michel Gill), is a socially progressive moralist, who gives nightly speeches to groups like “The Women’s Liberal Federation.” He demands honesty of those around him, but when his wife dutifully obeys his mandate, he is crushed. Ultimately she must decide, her husband tells her, who she will choose, him or the 18-year-old poet. Morell offers her his “strength” and the idealistic Marchbanks offers her his “weakness,” but Candida knows who is strong and who is weak and she decides accordingly.
Theater at its best
Meticulously directed by Anders Cato, the cast brings out Shaw’s humor, his humanity and his cutting social comment with exquisitely timed deliveries. When Morell’s secretary, Miss Prosperine Garnett (Samantha Soule), is asked by Marchbanks if a woman could possibly love Morell, her perfectly executed answer obviously terrifies the young poet. This is theater at its very best.
Atkinson plays the 33-year-oldCandida as a ripe and supple beauty used to being adored and coddled yet unafraid of taking command of any situation in which she finds herself. Wittrock gives Marchbanks all the melancholy of a young man who is apparently hopelessly in love. He has mastered both the timidity and fierceness of the character. Schramm is hilariously vulgar as Candida’s father, a man who despises the people who deliver “cheap labor” and cherishes them for his own use. If Gill’s Morell is entirely too likable, lacking the pomposity so often displayed by actors playing him, he is nevertheless a gem of an actor displaying the reverend’s inner life and core beliefs with intelligence and wit.
The minor characters in this rich text demand careful casting. Soule gives her “Prossy” the efficiency and severity we expect, yet imbues her at times with a delightful sensuality. Jeremiah Wiggins may appear a bit too robust as the pale curate Alexander Mill, but he offers the artlessness the character calls for.
The set by Hugh Landwehr is stylistically open to the autumn landscape outside and crowded with authentic Victoriana.