Volume XVII, Issue 18 # April 30 - May 6, 2009

Curtain Call

Candida: A Philosophical Frippery

reviewed by Jane Elkin

Candida, a comedy about social and sexual equality in Victorian England, sounds as if it should now be pointless. But in George Bernard Shaw’s enlightened hands it is surprisingly relevant to modern sentiments. For despite feminism and the intervening sexual revolution, its themes of male/female relationships in friendship, marriage and temptation are timeless.

photo by Stan Barouh

James (Carl Randolph) educates wife Candida (Vanessa Morosco) to be a free-thinker while father-in-law Burgess (Joe Cronin) courts James’ political influence.

Nonetheless, the two-hour run-time may be longer than the Twitter age cares to devote to drawing room debate, which is not to denigrate the performance, but rather the ponderous language. Bay Theatre’s artistic and managing director Lucinda Merry-Browne infuses this classic with brisk pacing, an opulent set, stunning costumes and animated characters. Still, the whole falls just short of rousing.

You’ll recognize these personages. The capitalist, the poet, the activist, and the queen bee are timeless characters who simply change their rhetoric and garb to suit the changing times: thus The Donald, Dylan, Ghandi and Oprah.

Take our heroine, for instance, Candida (played by Vanessa Morosco). She is the ideal woman: confident, radiant, compassionate and wise. A rarity in Victorian England, she is also mistress of her home in partnership with her husband, the Rev. James Morrell (Carl Randolph), who educates her to be a free thinker.

James is a forceful man in his own right, evoking strong reactions from devotees and detractors alike. His spinster secretary, Prosperine (CeCe McGee), adores him from afar. His young pastoral assistant Lexy (Jared Mercier) idolizes him. And his industrialist father-in-law Burgess (Joe Cronin) scorns his socialist politics even as he courts his political influence. Yet despite his great influence, James knows he would be nothing without Candida, and that is both his blessing and his problem. For what is half of a power couple but one crippled soul?

The jewel in James’ crown is too attractive to the competition, a certain dewey-eyed young poet he rescued from the streets, one Eugene Marchbanks (Dan Stowell). Marchbanks wants to put Candida on a pedestal, remote from what he perceives as domestic toil and empty promises. Is there a young mother who might not be flattered by such devotion? Candida may be wise but she is, after all, only human. Are there many husbands who would dare test her devotion?

Life is full of choices. How do we weigh our wants against our obligations? How often are we really offered a choice, and if granted it, would we change our circumstances? Candida decides that her love belongs where it is most needed. To find out just where that is, you’ll have to see the show.

Playing thru May 30 at 8pm Th-Sa; 3pm Su @ West Garret Building, Annapolis. $25: 410-268-1333.