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Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Dan Daily, Lee Stark, and Sean McNall.
Photo by Sam Hough.

Marriage is not what it used to be, deviating from the stable set of criteria that once defined the union. The Pearl Theatre Company's second production of the season, Bernard Shaw's Misalliance, is a thrilling look at one of the many periods in which the concept of marriage was revamped. Drawing out socialism, mating rituals, the portrayal of an independent, risk-taking Victorian woman and the humor associated with such things, the Pearl not only entertains to the point of tears, but edifies on the points of evolving Victorian culture.

But change is not always the order of the day. Hypatia Tarleton, the fanciful heroine played skillfully by Lee Stark, is not consumed with whimsy and impropriety in the beginning. Like most women in her station, she's all too resigned to accept Bentley Summerhays (newcomer to the Pearl, Steven Boyer), a man who "may be small, but he's the best of the bunch", as a mate. After all, his wit exceeds almost everyone's, even if he's not well-liked. It isn't until a plane crashes on her father's property (in a brilliant staging by another Pearl newcomer, director Jeff Steitzer) with a pilot that brings out the aggressor in her and a passenger that brings out the youth in her father, does she unleash her desire to be an uninhibited woman.

Unlike Hypatia, passion is never revealed in the scenic or costume design. Instead, both represent Victorian order and temperance. Rather than mirror the excitement Hypatia and her father John (Dan Daily) covet, Bill Clarke's conservatory in the country is a picture of leisure as it should be, with wicker furniture, plants, and golf clubs for easy living. Liz Covey's beige and pale pink costumes complement the scenery by being devoid of vibrant color, thus being devoid of fervor. Both provide a nice juxtaposition to the unraveling manners and wills seen onstage.

"Who would risk marrying a man for love?" Not Hypatia. And in the midst of her chasing after Joey Percival (Michael Brusasco), a daredevil lusting after his father's inheritance, her father gets inspired, her brother Johnny (Bradford Cover) gets incensed, and a poor man (the brilliant Sean McNall) raging against the elite and seeking to avenge his mother's honor get tangled in the mix.

One character that manages to remain the same (and the better for it) despite all the melee is Lina Szczepanowska. As the object of John's desire, Erika Rolfsrud may play a Polish acrobat with a Russian accent, but she is also the epitome of strength and Shaw's challenge to the pretense of what Victorian men really want. She is the anti-archetype of the ideal woman-clearly Shaw's ideal and clearly a dominatrix. Ahem.

The model marriage and consequently, the model woman, may mean different things to different people, but the Pearl Theatre Company appear to be having a great time defying the classic definitions. There may be a mismatch of couples in Misalliance, but all of the elements, particularly a stellar cast that includes resident company members and guests alike, form a solid collaboration.

Through January 24
New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues
Box Office is located at 131 West 55th Street in the outer lobby of the theatre entrance.
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: nycitycenter.org

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