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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Misalliance

Also see Richard's recent review of Moving Bodies


The Marin Theatre Company presented a superb production of George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance that closed on September 30. This was the perfect cast for this very talky but interesting play. The MTC company gets better and better each season and they always obtain the top talent from both San Francisco and Los Angeles for their productions.

The social drama starts out slow as it drones on and on with high moralistic speeches about the class system in England in the early 1900s. Misalliance is a comedy of manners without any plot or action and it was Shaw’s idea to set up his Shavian philosophy in the show. There are many debates on socialism and capitalism sprinkled throughout the play. However the brilliant acting of the company saved the play and it was well worth the 3 hour time to watch the production.

Misalliance is set in the Surrey home of the Tarleton family in 1909. The whole play takes place over one Saturday afternoon in the greenhouse of the self made millionaire and titular owner of Tarleton Underwear. He has risen from humble beginnings and has made millions in the commercial world. He is the new rich vs. the old aristocracy in Edwardian England.

On this day there is hosting for Lord Summerhays and his effeminate son Bentley. The prissy boy is engaged to the free spirited Hypatia, the daughter of the Tarletons. It was Shaw's way of a telling the audience of a consolidation of power between the classes amid the battle to hold onto the reins of power in 20th Century Britain. This was a “misalliance” if there ever was one. Their aristocratic English world is turned upside down when Lina Szczepanowska, a Polish aviatrix and acrobat committed to continually risking her life, “falls out of the sky” with her flying companion Joey Percival, a real Edwardian sportsman type. GBS sharpens his satirical saber as Lina becomes a lightning rod for issues of gender, class, politics and family dysfunction.

The play starts out slowly with motionless speeches between Bentley, ably played as a drama queen by Liam Vincent, and the business like son of John Tarleton played by Michael Ray Wisely. John Tarleton comes into the greenhouse room before the play bogs down with stilted conversation. He is a voracious intellectual and philandering person who gives money liberally to free libraries all over the country. Charles Dean, one of our better actors in the Bay Area, gave a wonderful vitality to the role of the capitalist who occupied the seat of power in modern England. It was an amazing performance and once again shows that Mr. Dean is one of the best actors in the Bay Area.

Another great actor Michael Santo played Lord Summerhays, a retired and politically useless aristocrat who may no longer have the money to back up his social power. His portrayal of the ineffectual Lord was remarkable. Kristen Roeters played Hypatia who is passive in the first act but in the second act unleashes an energy that frees and transforms her into a modern day feminist. One of the highlights of the drama is the character Gunner who comes into the play in the second act. Gunner was a unhappy young clerk who had discovered socialism and progressive politics from reading books from the free libraries that Mr. Tarleton has endowed. Andrew Hurteau's characterization of this man, complete with a working man British accent, raised the play to new levels especially with his confrontation with Tarleton. Veteran actress Joy Carlin played Mrs. Tarleton, a wife who held the family together. She had some wonderful lines such as describing Bentley as "overbred like one of those expensive little dogs."

Stacy Ross played Lina the Polish lady acrobat who dropped from the sky. She played the character free from all of the rudimentary moral codes. She captivated all of the men in the play and she even transformed Bentley from a physical weakling into someone would could soar with her above the clouds. It was an amazing performance. To round out this splendid cast was Jason Frazier who played Joey Percival who had three fathers and a strict sense of moral code until it was changed by Hypatia. Nicely acted.

The production hit on all the cylinders of cultural and social institutions such as the division of wealth, the organization of political power, the class system, education, parenthood, courtship, marriage and feminism. All this in a three hour period. The production ended with Hypatia saying "Words, words, I’m so sick of words, I suppose there’s nothing more to be said, thank goodness."

The direction by Amy Glazer was outstanding with all of the actors having the right English accents. She gave the play a lovely period staging with wonderful Edwardian summer wear by Todd Roehrman. The lighting by Jim Cave gave us a summer glow in Surrey. The glass pavilion set by Eric Sinkkonen was lovely. This was a striking production.

Lady in the Dark opens on November 8 and tickets can be obtained by calling 415-388-5208. It will run through December 2nd.




Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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