George Bernard Shaw categorized his 1894 play "Candida" as one of his "plays pleasant," and the production that opened at Center Stage last night is exceedingly pleasant indeed.
Staged by associate artistic director Rick Davis, in his Center Stage directorial debut, this compactly composed account of a love triangle is presented with near-perfect casting and swift pacing that accentuates the comic nuances in Shaw's pyrotechnic prose.
The points of the play's romantic triangle consist of: The Rev. Morell, a Christian socialist minister played by Richard Poe as a self-satisfied clergyman who can't speak a simple declarative sentence without making it
sound like a sermon; his wife, the lovely and efficient Candida, played by Joyce O'Connor as a clever flirt capable of bending any man's will to her own, and Benjamin White as the lovesick poet, Marchbanks, a social misfit whose infatuation with Candida threatens to turn the Morell household upside down.
All three actors are new to Center Stage, and they are the virtual embodiments of the characteristics Shaw intended. The only minor exception -- at least at Tuesday's final preview -- came in the climactic scene when Candida is forced to choose between the two men. Shaw's instructions call for "sweet irony," but Ms. O'Connor's tone suggested ridicule, adding a hint of cruelty to this teasingly frank picture of the true balance of marital power.
However, it would be difficult to surpass Mr. White's portrayal of the socially and physically inept Marchbanks, a soul so sensitive he literally howls at the notion of his beloved Candida dirtying her hands with housework. And there's also a generous dose of humor in the portrayals of the secondary characters -- particularly Kenneth Gray as Candida's gruff capitalist father and Louise Roberts as Morell's doting secretary.
Shaw was the apex of more than a few love triangles himself, and he had no illusions about the so-called "little woman." There's a child's chair on Craig Clipper's cozy, Victorian set, and the only characters who sit in it are men.
This detail typifies an approach that is at once insightful and broad, without being overbearing. Shaw regarded theater as a place to laugh and learn, and Center Stage's production achieves that dual goal. A visit to Candida's warm parlor on a blustery winter night will raise your social conscience and your spirits.
"Candida" continues at Center Stage through Feb. 10; call 332-0033.