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Candida
Adobe Theater

Also see Rosemary's review of August: Osage County

Candida
Jim Cady and Leslee Richards
In 1895, Candida by George Bernard Shaw shocked and delighted London with a twist on the hot issue du jour "The Woman Question," and scored his first theatrical success. The play continues to tease audiences into its third century without telling us "What do women want?" but rather "What do men need women to want?" Does Shaw reveal a fin de siècle feminism merely by raising "The Question," or does his Candida reinscribe the status quo "happy marriage" (hers because it's his) by closing the door that Nora opened in Ibsen's A Doll's House? We still argue, so Shaw still has us hooked.

Two men vie for one woman—an old story—her husband and his young protégée. The men posture, argue and challenge each other until they agree to let Candida choose between them. When she sees she's up for auction, she says she'll choose the weaker man. But Shaw leaves us dangling with questions. What is strength? What is weakness? And do men and women manifest these polarities differently?

Simon Green (recently seen in Adobe's production of Betrayal) plays Candida's husband, the Reverend James Mavor Morell, as a dedicated clergyman who's always been loved and pampered. He preaches Socialism and Christianity every night of the week to a different adoring left-wing audience. Green's Morell strides about with manly confidence and no self-doubt overseeing duties of his secretary and his curate, the Reverend Alexander Mill, played by Miles O'Dowd as a frazzled but devoted disciple.

Everyone moons over Morell, especially his secretary Proserpine Garnett, played with prissy diligence by Lacey Bingham (who performed in Adobe's first production, Vital Signs). Prossy fusses over her typing, filing and scheduling, while bantering with male characters. Both Prossy and Lexy show that those closest to the preacher worship his every move and word.

The most vital complicating character, Eugene Marchbanks, arrives in a fluster with Candida and sets everyone spinning. J. Paul Zimmerman (previously seen in Macbeth at the Vortex and on film and TV) captures the passion of the love-struck young poet, not only with his robust voice but through a lively physicality, at one point leaping up on Prossy's desk to argue with her.

To complete the frame around the title character before she appears near the end of the first act, Shaw presents Candida's father, another antagonist for Morell, who calls the shameless capitalist "an old scoundrel." Jim Cady (director of Adobe's recent A Life in the Theatre) gives Burgess a rollicking vulgarity that demonstrates Shaw's wit and comic genius.

By the time the pivotal title character Candida enters, we may well ask whether she's the protagonist or merely a trophy in a male battle. She speaks much less than her verbose admirers, but her every utterance matters more because of its economy, wit and common sense. Leslee Richards (director of A Midsummer Night's Dream recently at the Vortex) presents Candida as an unshakably confident woman, whose graceful movements and refreshing rationality capture all eyes and anchor the male posturing that surges around her. Not merely a gorgeous woman in her prime, Candida rules her home with compassionate finesse. She speaks fondly of servants and demonstrates that she and her husband practice the socialism he preaches by themselves contributing to the household manual labor.

Director Brian Hansen has chosen a strong cast and created an attractive and versatile 1890s set. The actors' strong grasp of their characters' quirky personalities, their sweeping movements across the whole performing space, and the rapid pacing of entrances and exits all capture the spirit of the comic realist G. B. Shaw.

Candida is playing at the Adobe Theatre, 9813 Fourth Street NW, Albuquerque, through October 10, 2010, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. $14 General Admission, $12 Seniors or Students, group rates available. For reservations, call 505-898-9222 or visit www.adobetheater.org.


Photo: Ossy Werner

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Rosemary Keefe



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