On Theater: 'Misalliance' makes grand return

September 23, 2010|Tom Titus
  • Philip Bushell charms a doubting Karen Wray in “The Rainmaker” at the Newport Theater Arts Center.
Philip Bushell charms a doubting Karen Wray in “The…

One might be forgiven for anticipating reams of social commentary on a variety of 19th century topics — ranging from socialism to women's rights to class warfare — from a George Bernard Shaw comedy.

And while "Misalliance," the season opener at South Coast Repertory, contains all these things in a package approaching three hours, it also packs a punch. Director Martin Benson, a veteran of Shavian staging, has infused the production with two essential elements, volume and animated energy, that make those three hours pass rapidly.

"Misalliance" was written a full 100 years ago, yet the SCR rendition comes across the footlights with a 21st century immediacy, thanks to Benson's minutely creative direction and a top-notch cast. The dialogue is not only declaimed, it's hammered into place with a vengeance.

Shaw placed his action in the spacious solarium belonging to a blustery millionaire, who gained his fortune manufacturing men's underwear, and whose dissatisfied daughter is being courted by the wimpiest kid on the block. Others drop in — some literally, from the sky — and stir a delicious confection of words, wisdom and wackiness.


Two performances stand out in a highly impressive ensemble. The always-forceful Dakin Matthews devours the stage as the garment mogul who's read just about everything (he incessantly advises others to "read" this or that author) and draws on a fountain of energy that decries his age. And Melanie Lora excels wonderfully as his daughter Hypatia (Patsy), who seeks to clamp a lid on all this talk and yearns for a little personal fulfillment.

The whining wimp is played to perfection by Wyatt Fenner, who'll get on your nerves but in a highly entertaining manner. Daniel Bess is less successful as Lora's stuffy brother, while Richard Doyle turns in a solid performance as Fenner's titled father, who harbors a letch for Lora's character. Amelia White is the soul of propriety as Matthews' wife.

A plane's crash landing (not long after the Wright brothers first explored the sky) injects a farcical note into the proceedings, bringing with it a stiff upper-lipped pilot (Peter Katona) and his seductive Polish passenger (Kirsten Potter) who's lusted after by young and old, both stymied at the pronunciation of her surname (Szczepanowska).

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