The Olney Theatre Center's latest offering of the season is the delightful period piece, Candida. Penned by George Bernard Shaw, this Victorian era play is bright and amusing. However, it also encourages one to think.
Candida is the loving and self-assured wife of the Reverend Morrell. A man of high principles (hence the name), Morrell is so revered that he can be considered to be a minor celebrity. He finds greatest worth in his socialist ideologies and his marriage to the good Candida. Soon things take a turn in the Morrell household when Eugene Marchbanks, a timid but poetic young man of eighteen, enters the picture. Eugene confesses his love for Mrs. Morrell to the Reverend himself. What ensues is a power struggle that ultimately reveals who truly has control over the household.
Beautifully written, Shaw artfully explores the psyches of his characters. It is especially interesting to observe the manner in which he has crafted the roles of Morrell and Eugene. At first glance, these characters seem as different as night and day. On closer inspection, it is evident that these two men are very similar. They each expound upon their individual interests at great length. In a sense they are both preachers.
The OTC's production of this piece is sumptuous. The set design by Robin Stapley is all dark, rich wood and period furniture. However, what is most striking are the large stained glass windows that are so prominent within the set design. Providing the light for these windows is Lighting Designer, Josh Bradford. His lighting design is extraordinary. It literally illuminates key moments within the play and communicates the impact of the words being spoken on stage.
Jeffries Thaiss' portrayal of Eugene also has a sexual element. From his arguments with Morrell to his poetic proclamations - everything he expresses is a seduction. Ross A. Dippel gives a solid performance as the Reverend Morrell. Although, he wears his virtuous nature on his sleeve, he also manages to expose the darker side of this interesting character. Finally, a true standout among the cast is Anna Belknap. As the repressed church secretary, Proserpine, she shows off her superb comic instincts and timing.
Although, Candida is a play set in a time that is far removed from our own, it still works well today. Fortunately, for the DC theater-going population, the OTC does this wonderful piece justice. Candida runs at the Olney Theatre Center through June 23rd.
Proserpine: Anna Belknap